As mentioned in the previous post, I recently interviewed Roger Abrams, who was part of the plaintiffs’ legal team that tried Morgan v Hennigan in 1972.  He had a lot of interesting things to say, some of which were included in the other post, but I wanted to put up a few more excerpts.  Abrams’ focus in the case was proving that the Boston Public Schools discriminated in hiring and placement of teachers and administrators, and hearing his story was very valuable in understanding the tools the school committee used to create a segregated system, and relevant to questions today about access, equity, and excellence.

On teacher evaluation:

“So I went to School Street and I went through the teacher files, and one thing they would require of the applicants for teaching positions is a birth certificate, a copy of a birth certificate. The birth certificates of people who were born in the South contained racial data. And I was able to convince the folks at Foley that I needed a whole bunch of secretaries to record this data, so I made up a form where we would put the person’s name and background and race and scores on the teacher’s exam, the National Teacher’s Exam, which was created by, administered by Educational Testing Service in Princeton. And I didn’t know whether we had enough data, but there was a statistician that the Harvard Center had affiliated with, not sure exactly what his status was. He looked over the eventual report that I wrote and he said, ‘It’s perfect. It’s great.’ And he so testified for me at trial. And then I went to visit the folks in Princeton who were appalled at what I had found because their directives to the users of their exam, because of the foreseeable racial disparities in outcomes on the teacher’s exam was, ‘Do not use this as the sole criterion for hiring,’ because it would be foreseeably racially discriminatory. What I was able to show, with the help of the statistician, was that all the other factors: the interviewer of the teacher, their prior credentials, their prior teaching experience, all became null factors, because everyone got the same score or around the same score. The only score that made the difference was the National Teacher’s Exam. And so they said, ‘What could we do to help?’ I said, ‘Come to Boston and testify.’ And so one of my witnesses was the administrator of the National Teacher’s Exam from ETS, who explained why Boston was misusing it.”

On building schools and busing:

“And so in Dorchester the [attendance] line would move as the people moved, so as to keep students apart by race. They would choose to build, they were still building schools back then, small schools in homogeneous neighborhoods, both Black and white. But it was a small school because it was a larger school that would draw from a larger attendance area which would cut over racial boundaries. And then, of course, as often as we could, we would show information about bus routes. This is a big city. Students can’t always walk to school. The question is not whether there were buses. There always had been buses. The question is where did the buses go? The buses would drive white students past Black schools to white schools. The only thing that happened with the remedy was that the routes were changed, and they would take white students to schools that had been predominantly Black and Black students to schools that had been predominantly white. This wasn’t a case of busing. There’s always transportation in every urban school system. But it’s a question of the routes. And we finished presenting our case. [J. Harold] Flannery and Bob [Pressman] had taken depositions of their own. I was not involved with those. They were mostly fact-oriented—what did you do then, what did you do then, and they would alert the witnesses as to the questions they were going to be asked. The question was not, ‘Why’d you discriminate this way?’ The question was ‘What did you do?’ Not to alert them in any way that what they were doing happened to be unconstitutional. Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. There were a lot of individual incidents that are set forth in Judge Garrity’s opinion that [Flannery] put witnesses on that were indicative of the repeated decisions to segregate the schools.”

On white flight:

“People often say that the school case created white flight. Not true. If you look at the trends, the decrease in white population in schools continued at the same level. That is, an increasing decrease. The people who could escape, whether to Catholic schools or out to the suburbs, continued to do so.”

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.