Black Chicago Teachers Win Discrimination Lawsuit Against Arne Duncan's Mass Firings

Back in June of 2009, BAR told the story of activist teachers who sued the Chicago Public Schools to reverse the firings of hundreds of committed, experienced, mostly black and female teachers in dozens of schools and their replacement with less experienced, younger, whiter teachers at lower salaries. This pattern of discriminatory firings and school closings has since been replicated across the country, and is a core element the Obama administration’s education policy. Since then, some of those same teachers have won the leadership of Chicago's 30,000 strong teachers union. Earlier this week, a US District Court judge ruled in their favor.

Black Chicago Teachers Win Lawsuit Against Arne Duncan's Mass Firing of Black Teachers

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

As Pauline Lippman explains at length elsewhere in this issue of BAR, the bipartisan quest to first undermine, and then to privatize public education has made educational policy a crucial battleground in the struggle for democracy in the U.S. As one of the laboratories for neoliberal school reform, my home town of Chicago owes the nation a profound apology. There, City Hall assumed mayoral control over public schools in the mid 1990s, replacing the professional educators at its helm with a “CEO” and flunkies from the mayor's staff.

A decade earlier under reform mayor Harold Washington, Chicagoans won locally elected parent councils with teacher representation, democratic bodies with veto over principals' contracts and the expenditures of some Title 1 funds. The most economical way around these local democratic institutions, City Hall decided, was to dissolve entire public schools, firing their staffs wholesale and replacing them with charters and other schools not subject to the law, or accountable to parents.

Paul Vallas, who went on to wreck public education in Philadelphia and New Orleans was the first Chicago school “CEO.” Arne Duncan, now the Obama administration’s Secretary of Education, was the second. Duncan closed dozens of schools and summarily fired hundreds of teachers in a “turnaround” strategy that has become national policy under the Obama Administration.

Back in June of 2009, BAR told the story of activist teachers who sued the Chicago Public Schools for racial discrimination in the firings of hundreds of committed, experienced teachers, most of them black and female, who were replaced by younger, less experienced and mostly white teachers. Since then, the years of resistance to undemocratic “reform” by Chicago's teachers, parents and communities has borne tangible fruit. This summer some of the teachers involved in the lawsuit were elected to lead the city's 30,000 member Chicago Teachers Union. And this week, a US District Court judge ruled on their discrimination lawsuit, giving the Chicago Public Schools 30 days to come up with a plan to recall the unjustly fired teachers.

BAR talked to Karen Lewis, a high school chemistry teacher and CTU president. We asked her what the significance of Monday's court decision on their case meant.

It means school districts cannot ignore the law. It means they can't illegally fire tenured teachers. Tenure, by the way, is not a guaranteed job. It's a guarantee of due process. Tenure just means you can't arbitrarily dismiss teachers because you don't like them and you'd rather hire your friends. So the court is just saying that teachers deserve due process, like employees on any job do.”

CTU's Media Coordinator Liz Brown also had some opinions on the outcome of the lawsuit.

It should embolden other teachers unions, other communities to stand firm when confronted with this kind of practice. These discriminatory firings also point to the failure of mayoral control.'

This summer's victory of rank and file teachers, closely allied with parents in neighborhoods across the city, in assuming leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union was significant in its own right. It came only after decades of struggle against a series of corrupt and incompetent union leaders. So we had to ask Lewis about that too.

Our victory in Chicago shows that if you work at making alliances with parents and communities you end up having a much stronger position. We were one of the few teachers unions that did not give some of the last round of concessions demanded of us. CPS (Chicago Public Schools) raided our pension to the tune of $1.2 billion, and when they were awarded an additional $110 million they turned around to insist that we give back $100 million in raises they'd negotiated earlier... We were able to resist, able to stand fast because of those alliances...”

Chicago's insurgent teachers, some of whom now lead their union, spent years forging deep ties with parent and community groups around the city. Parents, students and communities who resisted dozens of school closings and hundreds of acts of petty despotism on the part of City Hall stooges now have a powerful institutional ally in CTU. This is a lesson that teachers, parents and communities around the country can learn.

Last week saw the premiere of the pro-privatization propaganda film “Waiting For Superman.” The film depicts privately run charter schools as the solution to the nation's educational woes, and paints villainous unionized teachers as the main obstacle to improving education. Predictably, it has received rave reviews in corporate media, which have echoed many of its questionable theses as undisputed facts.

We couldn't resist asking CTU's Lewis her opinion of “Waiting For Superman.”

It's extremely simplistic. It leaves a lot out.. It tells a story of this amazing school but leaves out the fact that the operator of that school gets $17 million a year in outside private funding to make it all happen. That's $100 million in only a few years to make a showcase out of a single school, $100 million from people who have a stake in the charter school industry nationwide. Many of the same folks were involved in financing this movie.

Waiting For Superman also doesn't tell us that 80% of charter schools don't do any better than comparable public schools, if you use standardized tests as your measure. We need to take a really honest look at education, at problems and solutions. This movie just doesn't help us do that.”

CTU's Lewis isn't alone in her criticism of Waiting For Superman. The educators around Rethinking Schools responded to Waiting For Superman by spinning off a new site at Intended as an antidote to the orchestrated flood of praise for the pro-privatization flick, it contains critical reviews of the film by real teachers with classroom experience, along with leaflets, online discussions, links to ongoing sources of information and resources for resisting the corporate drive to privatize education.

For up to date news on the resistance to the neoliberal drive to privatize education, one of the places to go is

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor of Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)


2 Americas

The Law: Desegreation: A Historic Reversal - TIME

Should suburban residents be drawn into the struggles of big cities to achieve racial balance in their schools? Last week the Supreme Court answered that emotional question in the negative.

The court was bitterly—and significantly—divided over the decision. The majority included all four of the "strict constructionists" appointed by President Nixon—Burger, William Rehnquist, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell—plus Potter Stewart, an Eisenhower appointee. They were heatedly opposed by the court's four remaining Warren-era holdovers—William Brennan, Byron White, William Douglas and Thurgood Marshall. White, Douglas and Marshall filed dissenting opinions. Marshall, the court's only black member, described the ruling as "a giant step backward" for the court in the desegregation area. "In the short run," he wrote, "it may seem to be the easier course to allow our great metropolitan areas to be divided up each into two cities—one white, the other black—but it is a course, I predict, our people will ultimately regret."

By its decision the court seemed to draw a line on the extent of its longstanding social commitment to school desegregation.,9171,879425-2,00.html

New York Times 

March 13, 1981

Foes of Busing Hail Los Angeles Victory

LOS ANGELES -- Opponents of mandatory busing here have won a surprise victory that may lead to a dismantling of the city's busing program and end the 18-year battle over the desegregation of the city's schools.

The California Supreme Court, which has generally been considered a consistent supporter of busing as a means of achieving racial integration, refused yesterday to judge the merits of Proposition 1, an initiative approved by California voters in 1979 to prohibit court-ordered busing unless it was intended to correct intentional segregation.
Now LA is finding that inner city schools suck. 

Because of a steep budget deficit, L.A. Unified officials issued thousands of layoff notices last year and are expected to order more this year. Citing state law, school districts typically dismiss teachers on the basis of seniority during budgetary shortfalls.
The cuts were especially devastating to Gompers*, Markham and Liechty because administrators had recruited younger instructors who wanted to teach in the inner city. When those teachers were dismissed, they were often replaced by instructors who did not want to work in tough, urban schools, the suit alleges.

*Los Angeles's Samuel Gompers Middle School serves grades 6-8 in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Based on its state test results, it has received a GreatSchools Rating of 1 out of 10.

This Week:
ACLU wins suit to end seniority protection in teacher lay offs

the consequence of the two Americas.

The issue is dollar bills not "diversity"

Mandated busing to achieve integration was destined for failure.  The simple fact of the matter is that there is no feasible, cost-effective, or rational basis upon which "busing" can overcome residential patterns.  And over the past decade or so Residential Patterns in America have become increasingly stratified along racial and economic lines.

I thought, the reason d' etre of busing, was about RESOURCE disparity not some assumption that little Rashad would get better grades by being bused 30+ miles to sit next to Buffy?  As a matter of fact, what NCLB and it's evil twin Charter Schools does is to SIPHON off the best students, the best parents, and the best teachers to a one or a few schools.

In my neck of the woods the effects of NCLB was to cause a middle school in an affluent part of town to be forced to build temporary school rooms right before the start of the school year because the law allowed parents/students at "failing" schools to move to other districts.  So now the "best" students at the failing schools departing does two things:  (1) it makes the "failing schools" fail even more because the "cohort" that is responsible for the higher test scores is gone, (that puts the "urban" NEIGHBORHOOD school at risk of closure which will destroy real estate values and community cohesion), and (2) the "best" students, the A & B students at the "failing schools" are now competing against white kids who have a head start academically because of their social standing.  These children soon find out that the A or B they received, or the honor role acknowledgment they received at the failing school turns into a B or a C and no honor role.  No longer are they held up as "leaders," and examples or integral parts of an environment of success.   And oft times, they now become just another "average" student because of the "head start" of their upper income white counterparts.

It's not that they can't compete with the kids from upper social stratas it's that it's not necessary.  Because standardized tests are not a true measures of talent, intelligence nor potential. (In fact a lot of the upper class kids have no "street smarts" and limited emotional intelligence). Ironically, my daugher attended one of those now "failing" middle schools in my area and went on to graduate first in her college class, her closest friends/classmates went on to achieve their own commensurate success.  Successful people feed off each other.  And "successful" students leaving "failing schools" has the same deleterious effects as "successful Blacks" leaving for the White suburbs.  There were few whites in their peer group, of course nothing surprising  in a state with a 3% Black population.  

It's about resources and committed instructors, it's about inculcating a love of knowledge at home, and it's about being surrounded by like-minded souls.  Busing achieves nothing but puts undue pressures on children, families and extended families to cope with the needless situation of their children being bused 30 miles or more to sit with White kids and often time, get their egos and self-esteem further abused as they cope with a hostile environment where they are neither welcomed nor wanted. (I mean come folks, the Whites MOVED TO THESE AREAS to get away from them, RIGHT??!!)   My daughter attended an HBCU to get just the type of nurturing I'm talking about.

We can talk about various measures for school reform but let's please leave mandated busing in the dustbin of history where it belongs.  It's all about the benjamins, resources, committed parents and instructors, not following the "Joneses" who move from suburb to gated community to exurb. (the crackers in ATL have damn near made it to Nashville, if you get my drift)


@Enlightened Cynic:
In America, money is only a problem when it is portrayed as being given to those defined as being the undeserving. There is always money available for tax breaks for the wealthy, for war and weapons and weapons research, for surveillance, police, and for prisons.
Did you ever notice that the vast majority of those who claim to believe that "money is being thrown at schools" appear to want to see reductions of services and of the quantity and quality of courses take place at schools other than the ones that their own children attend? This is yet another reason why Black parents need to exercise far more control over their childrens' education at all levels. Even the best white/integrated schools haven't a clue (nor the inclination) on how to teach Black children how to survive and to remain sane in America. HBCU'S produce more Black doctors scientists engineers, etc. than all of the so-called elite and Ivy League schoos combined. I would like to challenge Blacks to become the dominant financial supporters of HBCU's and to reduce the traditional over reliance on white doners and the government. As long as Mormons, Jews and others feel the need to maintain their own institutions of higher learning in "post racial" America, so should we.


Now here is a different story. Teachers win against somebody. Often they are the ones who are losing fights in cases like this but it's nice to know that justice prevails.

In other words, Waiting for

In other words, Waiting for Superman makes the point that many of us have been trying to make all along;  the problem with underperforming schools, far from being one of too much money being 'thrown at the problems' was underfunding all along.

Surprise, surprise

Wow!  I can't believe you came to that conclusion.  What a stunner that was.... not.

Same old tactics.

The article has no facts about why the teachers were fired.  But rather, it starts with the premise that the black teachers were fired so white ones could take their places.  Boom!  That's it.  Suspend all need for any further explanation.  And then we digress into the classic argument for entitlements and guaranteed jobs for life.  I love this  line...

"So the court is just saying that teachers deserve due process, like employees on any job do" 

Yeah right.  Like non-government employees have any right to 'due process' for getting fired. Socialists have created a two-class system in America.  Government workers and everyone else.  And the "everyone elses' have no rights and no power while they foot the bill for the other class.

Look to the links in the article for you explanation, Jonathan

The previous article I wrote on the subject, which is linked to above, contains several hundred words on the suit, and why the teachers were fired.  Do us a favor and read it, Jonathan.

Besides those reasons, there is another.  If your aim is to privatize education, take over schools and operate then at a profit, the last thing you need are experienced, well paid workers who are organized and with more than a clue as to how the place can be run without you.  What you want are workers like those in Wal-Mart and McDonalds,... grossly underpaid, disrespected, overworked, and temporary.  This is the ideal workforce for school privatizers, and its not a bad description of the work environment for a lot of charter school teachers.

If you want to run schools like businesses, that's the kind of workforce you want.  So unions are your worst enemy, to be defamed, denounced, denigrated at every opportunity.  So from their point of view, you gotta git rid of those experienced teachers with roots in those local communities.  They, and the parents, are your enemy. 

Mass firings of teachers without cause have become a nationwide staple of the Obama administration's education reform, whether in DC, or Providence RI, or hundreds of other places.

Why not due process?

Socialists have created a two-class system in America.  Government workers and everyone else.  And the "everyone elses' have no rights and no power while they foot the bill for the other class.

Interesting take on the subject. Could it be that capitalists have created the two-class system? It sounds as if you'd prefer that no one have any rights and power. Other than the wealthy who, of course, always have rights and power.

I'm doubtful that you are a member of the elite class as they tend to have better things to do than spout off on a relatively obscure, black nationalist website. Why do you think that you and your middle class/working class neighbors don't deserve due process?

Let me take a stab at "why?"

Because as I've said countless times every little suck ass in America wants to be a Middle Manager with a do-nothing job that pays six figures, that they keep by callow and crony politics, not performing one iota, and they can be looked upon as pillars of the community.

Wannabe oligarchs and elitists think like them so no due process because he doesn't want anyone challenging his unprincipled, totally rooted in discretion, politically and socially-motivated hiring and firing decisions.  When he get's rid of some one or refuses to hire them because they don't attend is place of worship or have a membership in the same club, or shares his worldview, he wants that decision, rooted in cowardice and discretion, to be unreviewable.  It's the Middle Manager punk's version of: "the King can do no wrong."

He knows that's how the game is played, he wants those rules intact for him.  He's looking forward to exercising that power.  It makes him a respectable man in his bland, empty, unneighborly, homogenous suburbs.

(Now do you understand why the existentialist hated the middle class boogies?)


And I thought that white supremacy and capitalism created a rigged and unjust tiered system in America several hundred years ago. Is what a ball player does really worth more to the world than what a teacher or a tenured college professor does? Is a bus driver's job more critical than that of an aircraft inspector? Is the work of a President or of any head of state less challenging than that of a CEO or CFO at a major corporation? In reality, the belief that captialism rewards people based upon the value of their "hard" work is at best an ideal, and at worse a foolish delusion. People are "worth" whatever they can convince someone to pay them, period. Many anti-union and anti-worker people have never been able to grasp this concept, or to accept it as true. Given a choice, why would anyone take the $10.00 an hour janitor job if one can get $20.00 an hour for the same job? If one can get tenure, and healthcare and paid leave and vactions why not? Or are those things reserved only for members of the upper class? I feel that if more working people spent more time agitating for union representation for themselves instead of bad mouthing those who have it and the benefits that it confers upon them, as opposed to joining the bosses in demonizing union leaders and members (while hoping that these same bosses will take care of their needs for justice and fairness), we would all be better off. Turning ecucation into a commodity under the guise of "reform" will lead to exactly the same kind of pervasive corruption and unaccountability that private contracting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan has enabled. The only goal of a corporation whether it calls itself a bakery, a hospital, or a school, is to make profit for its shareholders, and, as history has shown again and again, profit making to the detriment of all other concerns often perverts the original intent of those institutions which have been privatized (Given away for next to nothing to those with the best lobbyists and political connections). A strictly corporate model of education reform will simply accelerate the decline of teaching as a profession and bring down the public education system with it. Of course, that is what most of the so-called "reformers" actually want anyway.

Black Chicago Teachers win lawsiut

Bruce, thanks for the story and the great reporting you do. In April, 2009, you did a story about the EEOC complaint filed by CORE, who went on to win Chicago Teachers Union leadership. That complaint said that the firing of all teachers at turnaround schools had a disparate impact on African American teachers. The EEOC has not yet acted on that complaint.

Last week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the CTU lawsuit that claimed that since June 15, 2010, over 1000 teachers were fired without due process. That particular suit did not make a racial discrimination claim.

CPS School Reforms that Don't Reform or Improve Students Lives

Having been both a student & teacher in Chicago's Public Schools [CPS], I've seen reforms that don't reform & improvements that don't improve - neither for the students nor their communities. As a student I saw the teacher's union regularly go on strike every year, not to protest learning conditions for students or for more involvement / empowering of parents, but generally over salaries & politics. But it must be said that when I was a student in CPS Schools [60s thru mid 70s]- every school I attended from 1st grade thru high-school- had principals that were WHITE MEN. Now most CPS' principals are BLACK WOMEN [w a few Black men, Hispanics, & whites in the mix]. At least half or more of my teachers from K - 12 grade were white. Presumably most of CPS students were at that time were also white. Now well over half [likely the vast majority] of CPS students are Black & Brown & most teachers like-wise [particularly Black Women].  

The mid/latter 1990s into the 2000s [in the name of reform]- saw Paul Vallas & Arnie Duncan become head of CPS Schools, though they had little if any real back-ground in education [Vallas was a corp CEO & apparently Duncan only has a BA degree & NOT in Education] & were called CPS' 'CEOs'. We never got a real explanation of how having corp heads instead of educators in charge would improve CPS Schools - it certainly didn't seem to bring any more funding. There was also the instituting of magnet & charter schools. Charters & military academies really took off w Bush's [who ironically was notoriously anti-intellectual] NCLB initiative [which increased military recruiters access to hi-schoolers] which over emphasized testing [run by private interests like: Neo-con Bill Bennet former Secretary of ED under Reagan who once basically EQUATED BLACKS w CRIMINALITY & Mike Milken- CONVICTED WALL St BANKSTER], & was used to justify wholesale CPS School closings & teacher layoffs [in the name of accountability]. Everything got trimmed [dumbed] down to reading, writing & rithmetic due budget constraints [which saw many schools give concessions to the junk food & soft drink industries while cutting out PE programs to try to make up short-falls - a Very Unhealthy Choice] & NCLB test preps. But when the school faculty knows that their jobs rests on their students performance on these test, they're bound to over-emphasize prepping for these test. Further it incentivizes cheating. Or for those teachers who see the ax coming ahead of time; it motivates them to either seek assignments at less at risk schools, seek early retirement, or seek work outside of teaching. Further Chicago is notorious for its political patronage system so when CPS' 'CEO' Duncan ordered school closings such that Charters replace them, those most politically connected are most likely to get these charters. None of these reforms improved overall student academics or their communities [reform that fails to improve]. Its all hype. Urban public schools have generally gone from bad to worse while politicians keep hyping 'reform'. Duncan's / Obama's so-called Race to the Top has federalized this fake reform & opened the door for corporatizing [so-called privatizing] of Public Schools. 

Also if you go to Democracy-Now! Interview Mon 8-31-2010 w TRACIE WASHINGTON & JORDAN FLAHERTY: You'll see the same USUAL SUSPECTS at work in post Katrina New Orleans. All of New Orleans' public school staff [including janitorial & cafeteria staff] who were predominately Black, were fired under Paul Vallas [yes the same guy from CPS]. The flood-gates were flung open for Charters - less qualified whites took teachers' positions & often paid more; as Arnie Duncan declared the Katrina disaster as the BEST THING that could have Happened for New Orleans' schools. Not only teachers but parents' role & authority has been diminished under the new so-called 'Reforms'.

FYI [a bit off topic but you all might find interesting]

FYI: Rob Huberman took over as CPS' CEO after Arne Duncan. Rahm Emmanuel just resigned as Obama's chief of staff to run for Mayor of Chicago after Mayor Daley Jr decided to resign [potentially bringing an end to the Daley's Chicago Mayoral Dynasty]. What Huberman & Emmanuel have in common? They're both Jews w Israeli Roots. The parents of both Huberman & Emmanuel are / were contemporaries of: Shimon Peres [1st cousin to Lauren Bacall], Ben Gurion, Golda Mier [who was from Milwaukee], Moshe Dyan, Ariel Sharon, etc. 

NCLB_RTTT_Hi-Stakes Testing_Trojan Horse to Corporatize Schools

An essay by Alfie Kohn in 2004 lays out how NCLB [& now RTTT] & hi-stakes testing were/are Trojan horses [weapons] for dismantling public schools & teachers unions as a prelude to the corporate take over of public schools [so-called privatizing] via the so-called & Charter School 'movement' - in the name of 'freedom or choice'. He names people like Bill Bennett & the Heritage Foundation as having planned this for yrs/decades.  This is relative to the neo-con / neo-liberal shock doctrine / free market doctrine that privatizing [corporatizing] every institution is automatically superior  [for whom- the people or the heads of Corps???] to public [government] institutions.  

Arne Duncan earlier this yr had the GALL to say that Katrina was the best thing to happen to New Orleans Schools!!! Where was the out-rage, why were there no demands for him to publicly apologize or even be fired!!! Katrina devastated New Orleans & left over 1000 people dead. It was a national disgrace [& international embarrassment] how the Bushites w Louisiana's Gov, & New Orleans Gov abandoned then attacked & slandered our people during the Katrina Disaster!!! How can Duncan make a statement like that & no-one in the MSNM media call him on it. Compare that to what happened to Van Jones in the fake / hyped up controversy by FOX Noise & Glen Beck. Result - first Mr Jones had to apologize for signing a 9-11 petition calling for a new investigation [DUH!], & then he was forced out. 

Comment on these so-called ‘reformers’ of Public Education: What do the likes Arne Duncan, Paul Vallas, Bill Gates, the Waltons of Walmart, Mike Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee really know about education – particularly in the inner city? Except that they are politically connected / influential &/or wealthy - LITTLE!!! With the exception of Rhee, who is a woman of Korean decent – they are all white men from upper middle class / affluent back-grounds, w no real credentials / experience in education {including Duncan & Vallas – before they were politically appointed as ‘CEOs’ of CPS by Mayor Daley Jr, & Bloomberg a billion business-man who used his money to buy the mayor’s spot of NYC}, who all attended exclusive private schools {& presumably their children also}. Thus they have noreal stake in or in-sight of the issues concerning inner-city public schools which they are pushing to {allegedly} ‘reform’- & nothing in common w Black & Brown inner-city children who attend those schools. Beware of these Greeks Bearing Gifts.


All ideas that seem good on paper & in theory – may not be so in practice. IE: [based on personal experience] – In the IT Hi Tech age of: IBM, Dell, HP/Compaq, MicroSoft, Mac / Apple, & Oracle – there has been a push to integrate computer technology in the classroom. But this may not be a good idea in all cases. I witnessed a situation where a school outlined a curriculum for IT in the classroom for all grades [pre-school thru 7th]. But how practical is it to have a pre-schooler up to 1st [& even 2nd] grade, attending computer courses as a regular curriculum? Nearly all pre-schoolers & kindergarteners are just learning their ABCs & 123s – yet the computer keyboard assumes that the operator has mastered this. Further even 1st & 2nd graders are still learning spelling & basic vocabulary, grammar & sentence structure. And there is a way that the Qwerty Key-board [not laid out in ABC order] is supposed to be manipulated via the ‘home-row keys, that would likely give even the average 2nd [& possibly 3rd] grader difficulty in manipulating correctly – because their hands are too small to operate the standard key-board properly from its ‘home-row keys’; let alone the fact that while in these early grades they are learning ABC order but the Qwerty key-board is not in ABC order. From these facts one can logically conclude that formalized computer classes shouldn’t begin till at least 2nd or even 3rd grade- though models & pictures of computers can be introduced even in pre-school [just as models & pictures of power-tools, cars & planes are – but no one thinks it’s a good idea to let pre-schoolers & kindergarteners to even turn-on a power-tool, car or plane – let alone operate them.    

Drew Brees Jersey

Should Not Have Had to Come to This

I dont want to have to say the R word but has America still not accepted minorities as well as it should.  We need to set an example as a country without these sorts of issues.  I know its only a wish, but  we can all dream. Dallas Windshield Repair Thanks