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What’s Race Got To Do With It?

How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality


Bree Picower and Edwin Mayorga

Within critical discussions of school reform, researchers and activists are often of two camps. Some focus their analyses on neoliberal economic agendas, while others center on racial inequality. These analyses often happen in isolation, continuing to divide those concerned with educational justice into «It’s race!» vs. «It’s class!» camps. What’s Race Got To Do With It? brings together these frameworks to investigate the role that race plays in hallmark policies of neoliberal school reforms such as school closings, high-stakes testing, and charter school proliferation. The group of scholar activist authors in this volume were selected because of their cutting-edge racial economic analysis, understanding of corporate reform, and involvement in grassroots social movements. Each author applies a racial economic framework to inform and complicate our analysis of how market-based reforms collectively increase wealth inequality and maintain White supremacy. In accessible language, contributors trace the historical context of a single reform, examine how that reform maintains and expands racial and economic inequality, and share grassroots stories of resistance to these reforms. By analyzing current reforms through this dual lens, those concerned with social justice are better equipped to struggle against this constellation of reforms in ways that unite rather than divide.
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4. Keys to the Schoolhouse: Black Teachers, Privatization, and the Future of Teacher Unions




Introduction: Locked Out

It was one of those days when I arrived at my elementary school in East Harlem so early that the building was locked. I suspected as much from a block away because I could see two of my coworkers standing outside with their coats and bags. These two women were African American and were old enough to have children my age. Each of them had taught in the school for more than a decade. I had been a teacher in Harlem for eight years at this point, but I was only in my fourth year of teaching in this particular school. My coworkers rang the bell again when I arrived, and we chatted, waiting for someone from the maintenance staff to open the door. After a few more minutes went by, a young White woman (younger than me, at least) approached. I suspected she worked at the charter school co-located in our building, but I did not recognize her. This was not too unusual, though, since I observed frequent turnover in the charter school staff and even administration throughout the school year. There were always new faces in the building. “It’s locked?” the young woman asked as she approached. “Well,” she continued, “you’re in luck!” She reached into her bag, pulled out a key, and proceeded to open the building for us.

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