Implicit bias training. Human capital. Diversifying the pipeline. All phrases thrown around at a September 30th hearing at the Boston City Council to discuss the lack of diversity of the faculty of the Boston Public Schools. What do they mean? What do they mean when only 21% of the current faculty is Black, against 62% white? What do they mean when these numbers are in violation of a federal court order, and not for the first time, which mandates that 25% of BPS faculty be Black and 10% be of “other minority” (in the words of the order)? What do they mean when BPS spends $8 million on a campaign to increase the number of educators of color, and the percentage stays the same? When Ross Wilson, assistant superintendent of human capital for BPS, praises the school system for its recruitment efforts, but then has no response for why Black educators retire or leave the school system at a much higher rate than whites?

Matt Cregor, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, testified at the hearing. In referring to the court order mandating 25% Black faculty, he said, “We and everyone here view this as a floor, not a ceiling for what racial diversity in teacher hiring and retention needs to be in Boston.” This is an instructive line, and opens up a different way to view BPS. The hearing on the 30th framed the Boston Public Schools’ noncompliance with the order as a failure of policy, of things not working. But you can only fail if you intended to accomplish the goal in the first place. What Cregor is pointing to is, at best, a hesitancy on the part of the schools to make a commitment to diversity and desegregation, and, at worst, an ongoing refusal to do so, a stance that is not at all unprecedented in our history. Instead of complying with either the letter or the spirit of the law, the City of Boston has created instead a $1.1 billion department with an overwhelmingly white faculty, a system that pushes Black educators out quicker than their white counterparts, and an evaluation approach that punishes Black teachers. This is the system as it exists. Why do we assume it’s a mistake?

Let’s be clear, when your school system needs implicit bias training, that means that your school system is biased. When you say you need to diversify the pipeline, that means that there is a pipeline, and its white. When Black educators retire or leave at much higher rates than whites, that means that, whatever your stated intentions are, you are driving them away. When your teacher evaluation system disparately affects Black teachers, your evaluation system is racist. When looked at this way, the questions become much different. We are getting into questions of who the school system is for, and who it isn’t. Who owns it, and who serves it.

Recently, I had the chance to interview Roger Abrams, who served as part of the legal team for the plaintiffs in Morgan v. Hennigan, the case that challenged school segregation in Boston. His work on the case was focused on proving that the Boston Public Schools discriminated in the hiring and placement of Black teachers and administrators. What he told me he was surprised by, and is interesting to think about 40 years later, is the straightforwardness of the witnesses he deposed from BPS. As he says:

In the depositions [for the case]…I was able to get admissions from school board administrators to the effect that, ‘Oh, of course we assigned her to that school. She’s Black.’ And it took all my power not to go, ‘Oh, great,’ because my case was basically made through the depositions. The school board people were astounded that we alleged discrimination in hiring, because, they claimed, they did not keep racial data.”

Back then, the committee either denied being discriminatory or seemed oblivious to what discrimination even was. At last month’s hearing, Assistant superintendent Wilson spent much of the time agreeing with the critiques of Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley, saying frequently that he “shared their concern”. But sharing concerns does not create change, and further, claims for the school system an unearned innocence in what has happened and is happening. In the quote above, Abrams mentions the school committee’s assertion from the 1970’s that they did not keep racial data with regards to hiring. This is a specious claim in itself, but is also contrasted with the reams of race-related data BPS presented at the hearing two weeks ago, in amounts that threatened to bog down the discussion. For all their precise number crunching and human capital campaigns, BPS still presented the lack of non-white faculty as, essentially, an unexplained Act of God they are not complicit in. Back to Abrams, discussing the actions of the school committee prior to desegregation:

The establishment and maintaining of a segregated school system in Boston was the result of deliberate, conscious, repeated decisions by the School Committee. People often say, quite incorrectly, that Boston and the other Northern cases were what’s called ‘de facto’ segregation, they just happen to mirror the neighborhoods. That’s wrong. There was no law, no city ordinance or state law that required schools to be segregated. But the school board repeatedly and annually made decisions as to where attendant zones would go, and they would draw those attendant zones right down through racial boundaries.”

Today, BPS does not attempt to argue that their teachers and staff are white because of forces beyond their control. They don’t argue anything at all. They simply say they share your concern and that they’re working on it, as the status quo marches on.

Boston Remembers September 12, 1974

Posted: September 21, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

There was extensive coverage of and reflection on the 40th anniversary of the first day of school in 1974. There were many detailed recounts of the history on public radio, in major newspapers and community news.It was a tremendous opportunity for BBDP to share some of what we have learned over the last four years. To mark the day, BBDP held a press conference story-circle (that has to have been a first!) to release our report Unfinished Business at SEIU 1199 in Dorchester.

One exciting development was the announcement of a partnership with WGBH and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism exploring this history and its links to today–for Boston and the nation.

For us September 12 does not mark the end of the story but a recommitment to figuring out together what is the leadership that we need for the next 40  years to get closer to the race and class equity democratic access and excellence a critical mass was seeking then and continues to strive for today.

 

WBUR

Radio Boston
9/12/2014
School Desegregation Four Decades Later
Learning Lab (online post)

Boston School Desegregation and Busing: A Timeline Of Events

Boston Globe 
9/13/2014

Talk on busing overdue, Walsh says

Dorchester Reporter 
9/18/2014

Report seeks to document busing’s impact on people 

WGBH
9/9/2014
40th Anniversary coverage, with Leola Hampton
Press Release 9/8/2014

WGBH News Launches Yearlong Series on How Busing and Desegregation Shaped Boston Over 40 Years

Please click here to view the new BBDP report:

Anniversary report cover

Transitions

Posted: August 21, 2014 by meghandoran in Uncategorized

In news that is bittersweet to me, I am announcing that August 22nd will be my last day working for the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. After 3 years as a full time and then part time employee, I am transitioning into a resident fellowship in the Humanities Center at Northeastern University in order to (finally!) complete my dissertation. When I came onto the project in August of 2011 I made a one year commitment, but couldn’t bring myself to part with this exciting and innovative project. Donna and Horace have been like family to me and I have met so many wonderful people committed to the core values of our project – equity, access and excellence for all – along the way.  Many of you have told your story to me, an act of courage for which I have always been grateful.

Of course, I’m not going anywhere, and will continue to volunteer alongside the amazing leadership that has made this project what it is – a dynamic and powerful act of listening and truth-telling.Please stay in touch and if you are interested in my dissertation, on memory and politics (surprise, surprise), which will include a discussion of the BBDP, let me know. As I focus in on it, I’ll be happy to talk to anyone and everyone about it. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for the BBDP and am excited to work with you all as it comes to fruition!

Meghan

An Interview about Anniversary Event

Posted: June 23, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

Tell YOUR Story

Posted: June 11, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

In a wonderful recently posted TEDx Roxbury Women talk, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley speaks to the power of story. As she says, “behind every statistic there is a person, a story, a testimony begging to be told”. This could be a motto of BBDP!

She lays out beautifully the power of our K-12 education stories and how our lessons there can deeply influence our life trajectory–our values and passions, our commitments and life purpose.

This so aligns with what BBDP has encountered in story circles and interviews. The more we listen the more we begin to make out the tapestry of experiences and understandings that have led us from Morgan v Hennigan to today.

We hope you enjoy the talk as much as we did.

Boston, Busing, Race and Class 2014

Posted: June 4, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

When the BBDP listened to stories from and read about the era of Boston’s school desegregation crisis, transportation —“busing” –became the flashpoint but the struggle and any resulting gains or trauma was about so much more. As we learned early in our process:

  • Quality public education for all U.S. people was the larger historical vision and goal it was part of which included people of color and impoverished white people (not to mention women and other marginalized groups) demanding inclusion and access.
  • Brown v Board of Education & Morgan vs Hennigan were part of a specific  legal/judicial strategy for tackling legal racial segregation as a barrier to the vision, and
  • “Busing” was one of many tactics for carrying out that strategy

Today, Boston is in conflict around an issue deeply symbolic in this year’s anniversary of court ordered desegregation: ending yellow school bus service for 7th and 8th graders and putting them instead on public transportation. How ironic in many ways to have a heated meeting about the transportation of students during this anniversary year. But at the June 2nd meeting at Madison Park High School, parents, students, bus drivers and monitors, education activists, and community members came out to challenge the decision. Though the focus was busing, the feelings vented and points raised were also about so much more. And they were totally aligned with the three areas BBDP’s work pointed to as issues lifted up but unresolved then and now: race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence.

Race and Class Equity: Members of the Black community, other communities of color and people from less wealthy neighborhoods raised concerns those more privileged do not have to worry about –or a least have more resources to address–for their children. Participants asked about physical safety beyond cross walks, the implicit racism marginalized children face on public transportation and moving through life, having even less contact and interaction throughout the school day with adults from their own community and culture like those who serve as drivers and monitors.

Democratic Access: What marginalized communities face is so often invisible to those with privilege.  Those present at the meeting pointed out multiple issues impacting equitable access to schools, including the fact that BPS has closed many schools in communities of color, that the exam schools, which serve the most privileged students in the system, are among the easiest schools to access by MBTA, and that less privileged parents struggling with this change do not have the luxury of flexible work schedules.  Increasingly in our restructuring economy and culture, access is a function of privilege instead of a function of justice as imagined by those who pushed for Brown and Morgan.

Demanding Excellence: Those with tremendous financial resources have an increasingly disproportionate voice in the future of public education and everything else. Too often they do not seek out a wider range of racial and class perspectives, believing, consciously of not, they do not add value, i.e. that they have nothing to learn from those most negatively and directly affected by their decisions. People were infuriated that effective outreach to their communities was not done earlier and with more intention and cultural proficiency. They were frustrated by the limited places for their input in finance-driven decisions being made by bodies with no direct accountability to them, their communities, their People.

This is not an indictment of anyone. It is an indictment of a system that is still failing too many. It is clear that those committed to race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence are everywhere— in all communities across race and class barriers, in community organizations, and in public and private institutions. It is also clear that these issues are more pressing for some than for others. In many ways having such conflicts arise during this anniversary year provides a tremendous opportunity for all committed to race equity, democratic access and demanding excellence to be more transparent about facing the increasingly complex barriers to the goal and vision of quality public education for all. It is a chance to deepen dialogue and action.