In his recent column Harold Meyerson leaps from his premise to his conclusion, apparently without a casual glance at the facts in the course of the process:
Teaching, at least in major cities, is also a profession in which minorities are heavily represented; when reformers argue that we need to take down teachers unions to give more opportunity to minority youth, the argument veers perilously close to “We need to destroy the black middle class in order to save it.”
The premises appears to be that a large proportion of teachers “in major cities” are members of racial and ethnic minorities and that unions are champions of minorities. The implication is that opposition to public employees’ unions is motivated by racism. The truth seems to be somewhat more complicated. In Chicago:
Today, just 19 percent of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 percent in 1995, the union says; organizers fear that shift means fewer teachers have deep roots in and passion for the communities where they work.
About 42 percent of the city’s 400,000 public school students are black and 87 percent are low-income, according to district figures.
The statistic that I’ve heard cited by representatives of the CTU is that about one-third of Chicago’s public school teachers are members of racial and ethnic minorities while more than two-thirds of the students in Chicago public schools are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Here’s a piece that cites 29% African American teachers, 47% white teachers. Whatever the actual numbers it appears pretty clear that the percentage of African American teachers has declined over the past 20 years.
The Chicago Teachers Union has been the exclusive representative of Chicago teachers since 1966. The reason for the decline in the percentage of African American teachers cannot, therefore, be lack of union representation and I also note that I saw no reports that inadequate minority membership was among the CTU’s grievances on which they struck.
In this post I’m not taking a position on whether more minority teachers would improve educational outcomes (the evidence appears to be inconclusive) or whether the schools should be instruments for affirmative action.
I’m just pointing out that Harold Meyerson’s “playing the race card” is not supported by the facts in Chicago which is the context of his column.