Why schools can’t go back to how things used to be

There was a time when segregated Black schools--though not as well resourced as white schools--were still successful. Prior to Brown vs Board of Education in 1954, Black schools were located in Black communities that had an economic mix, where businesses and needed services were present. There were jobs and a sense of community. Black students were educated by Black teachers who often lived in the same community. The curriculum was traditional, but, to some extent, cultural responsiveness was built into the way schools worked--Black success was visible to students.  These teachers taught young people to be proud of who they are because they knew and understood their heritage.  


We lost this positive schooling experience in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of White and Black Middle Class flight that came with the disappearance of blue collar jobs. This left Black neighborhoods to become struggling spaces with few employment opportunities.

Though some groups advocate for a return to intentionally segregated schools, we are calling for schools where all teachers have to learn about the history of the city, and understand what matters to the students and their families, and have to learn to teach from that place.  Teachers also need time and support to learn these skills.

Five reasons why we can’t just go back to how things used to be

  1. The whole teaching profession has changed.  Teaching and teachers unions have been systematically attacked and undermined.  As a result, teaching is seen as a less and less respected and desirable career choice.  This is particularly true for many Black teachers who now have other professional opportunities; but it is also true for all teachers.

  2. Many teachers burn out after two or three years.  They love the kids, but there is never time in the day to do all the things they need to do to meet their needs.  Teachers need far more paid time to do all the extra mentoring, professional development, lesson planning and one-on-one meetings required to be truly effective.

  3. There are way too few support staff to deal with the range and depth of crises experienced by schools in our major US cities.  In the absence of adequate “related service” specialists, teachers end up doing the work of school nurse, social worker, psychologist and parent liaison.

  4. The pressure to increase test scores has made teaching into a highly regulated job, with more time spent doing test prep than actual teaching.  Teachers feel like they have no control over their own classrooms.

  5. Where teachers used to get real supervision that included support, mentoring, and resources; they now get cursory observations completed with a checklist.

In summary, teachers’ teaching conditions and students’ learning conditions have changed drastically over the past 40 years to the point where we need to pay a great deal more attention to what would make teaching, once again, a desirable long-term career and schools places where teachers, students and parents want to be.