The Push for Black Teachers, Minneapolis Style

So, the Minneapolis Public Schools hooha reminded me of the Clarence Mumford case, as the murmuration swooped in, retweeting regurgitated reprints of the same original story and then…..sharp veer. Nothing.

In a media world where every wrinkle of every navel is closely held up for inspection, no one ever wonders why,  or how,  a union and district could agree to layoff orders based on race.

Going by outraged but not terribly detailed contemporary media reports, I tried to envision one of the following cases:

Union rep: OK, one last dealbreaker: fire white teachers first.

District rep: Sounds good! Cheaper.

Or

District rep: None of this is happening unless we’re allowed to fire white teachers first.

Union rep: Sure! We’ll be the wokest.

Really? It just came up? Seems odd. So I dug into it a bit.

The first thing I noticed, in addition to the fact that this was a five month old story, was the lack of mainstream news coverage.  Apart from syndicating Steve Karnowski’s AP article, there’s little mention.

“Mainstream media ignoring unpleasant topics”–well, what else is new?

On the other hand, perhaps the mainstream media isn’t reporting it now because they considered it old news.

The layoff clause of the Minneapolis teachers’ contract was extensively reported by local news and education media both before and after the agreement back in March, specifically mentioning the racial firing factor. The NY Times mentioned it when announcing the settlement–not as clearly, perhaps:

….while some details of the deal have yet to be finalized, it involves strengthening job protections for hundreds of employees of color

but still enough information for someone to inquire what specific job protections they were talking about.

None of this was secret. It just boggles me that everyone is retweeting and broadcasting outrage now because a minor (forgive me, I speak as one much *more* minor) conservative state newssite reported what had been common knowledge for months. Education Next, a pro-school choice education reform publication, ran an article on it back in June. As usual, education-centered publications did their jobs and the  media, mainstream and conservative proved once again shockingly weak on actual reporting. They wait for a nudge to rise to their radar–and they don’t read education pubs.

Fortunately, the World Socialist Web is on it, baby. Union solidarity over all for these folks, seniority is the way of the land, color be damned. So they did some reporting. It’s an act worth considering, media folk.

This is how I learned that layoff protections began in the earlier contract cycle of 2019-21. That contract had specific  language designed in part to protect non-white teachers not by specifying their race, but by the schools they were most likely to work in: mps1921

So here’s the big reveal left unmentioned by every other news site:  the race-based protections weren’t new. After generations of LIFO, suddenly, four years ago, the district and union had agreed to protect teachers who were far more likely to be non-white.

The obvious conclusion, which took just a bit of googling, was that the law had changed. 

Sure enough: Turns out that in Minnesota, it has always been legal to lay off teachers by a factor other than seniority. However, district and union disagreed, the mandatory sequence was last in, first out. Then, in 2017, Minnesota passed a law repealing the mandatory LIFO layoff order. So before 2017, unions had no reason to negotiate, since they wanted the default. Not any more.

Almost immediately, Minneapolis district and union management agreed to protect non-white (mostly black) teachers.  I won’t bore you with all the links, but there are all sorts of district memorandums and power points and statistics on this. The 2019 contract was the first one to follow the law change, using wording clearly designed to avoid lawsuits but protect teachers who were far more likely to be nonwhite.

Alas. By creating a roundabout means of protecting non-white teachers, the district incurred the wrath of the unprotected. Say for the sake of simplicity that thirty black teachers are the least senior. The ten most junior work at the racially isolated schools; the other twenty have been teaching in the district for longer and work at non-qualifying schools. Layoffs skip the first ten and target ten of the more senior twenty. So layoff language designed to end seniority and save black teachers results in chopping off teachers who are a) more senior b) black. That is, apparently, what happened in the layoffs earlier this year).

Then consider that in reality some of the junior teachers whose jobs are saved are white, and feelings get very ugly. 

And so, the negotiators focused on wording the next contract to protect more black teachers. 

Back in August of last year–why yes, readers, a year ago–the district and union were working on a Memorandum of Agreement to protect teachers of color, finally signed in December 2021:

mpsmoa22

At this point there’s still no mention of protecting entire groups. Lawsuit avoidance is still a concern.

But this wording doesn’t resolve anything. Exempting one group of junior teachers simply puts the next-least senior group on the block, again with the double irony: black teachers with more seniority would be left unprotected. They were, understandably, very unhappy with this failure  and wanted explicit protection. So during the actual strike, the following maneuvers occurred:

Negotiations about protections for teachers of color stalled when MPS said that it legally could not use race to protect a class of employees from layoffs and excessing. ..[on] March 5, MFT removed its memorandum of agreement about teachers of color from contract negotiations.….. (emphasis mine)

On March 6, the district negotiating team resubmitted its memorandum of agreement proposal on protections for teachers of color. This resubmission was not countered by MFT…..

According to MPS School Board Chair Kim Ellison, the March 16 memorandum of agreement submission was part of the district’s suite of equity proposals and included a change in the language to use the term “underrepresented” instead of its previous language identifying specific categories of teachers, such as those participating in the district’s Grow Your Own program.

So: union added explicit protection by race. District said they’d get sued. Union dropped the language. Black teachers found out and announced their unhappiness in a public letter. District put the language back in, leaving the final contract language that has so incensed the right five months later:

mps2223

The district readily admitted their concerns:

“Educators of Color Retention” …has now been changed to “Recruit and Retain Educators That Reflect Our Students.” When a union bargaining member asked why the title had been changed, claiming the new title was “whitewashed,” a district official admitted, “That was done for legal reasons. The EEOC doesn’t allow it [the MOA as it was originally written] to be based on race. So that’s really the reason; to still be inclusive but to do it with language in which we can legally defend.”

Clearly the district thought that “f)” would result in lawsuits or penalities. Nonetheless, they put the language back in anyway, hoping that using the term “underrepresented” will get them out of jail free.

Perhaps, cynically, they decided to let the courts throw the clause out and get the blame.

Or something else. Reporting is, er, thin.

Race-based layoffs weren’t the primary dispute this round, but rather increasing the pay of classroom assistants.  Which brings up the first questions I had on this topic: really? Union and district were both committed to firing white teachers first?

Moreover, apparently not one reporter wondered what those white teachers thought.  Black teachers’ fury at not getting explicit race-based protection is on full display in every story. But no white teachers are interviewed on this point.

But then that’s not a conversation that would go well.

“Kailee, you have three years with the district. Next layoff, brand new black and Hispanic and native American teachers will keep their jobs while you’ll lose yours. Tell us how that feels.”

{Kailee, not wanting to lose her job now for racist remarks, keeps her mouth shut.}

On the other other hand: union members are overwhelmingly white and they voted for the contract.

Why?

That’s where imagination fails me. The district position makes sense. Not to put too fine a point on it, junior teachers are cheaper. Older teachers cost more. Dumping expensive teachers for lower-paid teachers who also increase the districts non-white teacher ratio: win-win.   So their side is completely sensible… leaving the whole “it’s probably unconstitutional” part of it aside.

What I’m having trouble understanding is why white teachers voted  for something that seems obviously against their interests.

Wesley Yang hilariously argues that white teachers have been brainwashed. He’s not alone. The entire conservative media ecosystem is perfectly primed to believe that white teachers in Minnesota would enthusiastically vote to give up their jobs for black teachers in the name of wokeness, as suggested.  But that’s because the entire conservative media ecosystem believes,  as Yang does, that white teachers are morons.  

Reality is a bit hard to communicate in a world when the entire conservative ecosystem thinks that teachers are wildly radical progressives eager to flip the gender of every public school student in the country. Most of the right ignored Andy Smarick’s explanation that schools heeded parent wishes on pandemic education options, not to mention the Heritage Foundation’s teacher survey that found the average teacher was barely left of center. If Andy Smarick can go on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast to discuss his piece and they spent maybe three seconds on it then return to bitching about schools, nothing this little ol’ blogger can say is going to have more impact than AEI and Heritage Foundation.

Still, I try. And reality says this: Unions’ first customers, all public noise to the contrary, are the teachers. Teachers demand three things from unions: negotiate our pay, keep tenure, maintain the seniority system. After that, union leaders and the fringe can say all sorts of stupid shit because regardless of teachers’ political views, they (and by they I mean we) don’t care. Whatever, man. Most of us don’t even vote in the union elections. All the public bullshit that drives pundits crazy is white noise to most teachers.

Therefore, I don’t readily see why the majority white teachers would vote for this.

Speculation:

  1. They didn’t spot the last minute addition of protecting all teachers by race. Given the long history of identifying protected classes, perhaps white teachers just assumed the protections were still Montessori, racially isolated, immersion et al schools and nothing more. When they realized the expansion….well. Speaking up would be politically dangerous.
  2. There aren’t enough non-white Minneapolis teachers to make this worth bitching about. The raise is hefty.
  3. Maybe the non-white teachers are primarily in schools no white teacher wants. They’d quit if transferred to fill a laid off position, and hey, the raise is hefty.

I have no idea. Perhaps some enterprising soul will ask around.

What I do know is this: the underlying drive here is not wokeness or progressiveness run amok. It’s part of the ongoing push for more black and Hispanic teachers to teach a population that research suggests do better when they have a teacher of their own race. Or, as Dan Goldhaber put it: 

assigning a Black student to a Black teacher is associated with higher learning gains than assigning the same student to a teacher with one standard deviation higher credential test scores or a teacher who is National Board certified. 

Black teachers for black kids get better outcomes than smart teachers do.

This contract language protecting teachers by race seems obviously unconstitutional. But it ain’t woke. And it ain’t entirely crazy.

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12 responses to “The Push for Black Teachers, Minneapolis Style

  • sthomson1971

    Thanks for digging in on this story. Here’s to some enterprising soul asking around, as you put it.

  • techanon

    > Most of us don’t even vote in the union elections. All the public bullshit that drives pundits crazy is white noise to most teachers.

    > Therefore, I don’t readily see why the majority white teachers would vote for this.

    At the risk of asking the obvious: how many of them actually voted for this? Perhaps it was one of those “8% voter turnout, 95% of the vote” situations?

    • educationrealist

      Given that they were on strike, which means none of the teachers were workiing, it was probably pretty high. but if you noitce I leave the possibility that some teachers voted for it and didn’t see the clause added. As I said, there are things that can’t be answered without real reporting, which is why I think someone should dig in.

  • Nathan Taylor

    People vote for things all the time that do not benefit them. This should not be a surprise. An analyst who believes people *only* act in their narrow cynical short term self interest is going to be constantly confused. History is full of religious wars.

    John McWhorter argues social justice/woke is a type of religion. One obvious proof point of this is woke white people constantly say and act and vote for things which are not in their white interests. These are completely sincere (religious) moral beliefs. The surprise would be if people did not vote/act on them.

    • educationrealist

      hahahaha.

      “Wesley Yang hilariously argues that white teachers have been brainwashed. He’s not alone. The entire conservative media ecosystem is perfectly primed to believe that white teachers in Minnesota would enthusiastically vote to give up their jobs for black teachers in the name of wokeness, as suggested. But that’s because the entire conservative media ecosystem believes, as Yang does, that white teachers are morons.

      Reality is a bit hard to communicate in a world when the entire conservative ecosystem thinks that teachers are wildly radical progressives eager to flip the gender of every public school student in the country.”

      Exhibit A, oh readers.

  • Roger Sweeny

    “Still, I try.”

    Keep trying! We need people who care about the truth. And eventually …

  • Patty

    How much of the positive effect of black teachers on black students is due to the shirking of discipline of black students by white teachers? If black students aren’t sitting down and paying attention they don’t learn, whereas the smarter white and Asian students are more able to figure things out from the textbook and help at home.

  • educationrealist

    Given that tons of data shows that black students are more likely to be disciplined (justifiably so, as a rule), I’d say that none of the positive effect on black students is due to black teachers being more likely to discipine them. In fact, as white teachers in out of control schools will tell you, administration will often refuse to discipline black kids because they’re worried about the stats.

  • JOHN P MERTZ

    I’m not familiar with your newsletter so I’ll assume you have no political agenda. But still how do you keep from becoming a darling of the MAGA crowd?

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