Teacher shortages, teacher shortages and critical race theory: The emergence of new laws in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, after Floyd’s death
The principal of Colleyville Heritage High School was the first African American to be named in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb.
Whitfield, who holds a doctorate in education, was anticipating big challenges when students returned in the fall. COVID-19 had already shut down in-person learning, and the pandemic was about to make a chronic teacher shortage even worse.
The day after Floyd’s death, when he hadn’t slept for one night, Whitfield sent an email to his friends and colleagues. He wrote about “systemic racism” and wondered what could be done to stop it.
At first, Whitfield says, “I got nothing but positive responses … from people in the community, parents, family members [and] staff members.” In the months that followed, though, pressure on him mounted as internet chatter began to heat up among those he calls “[conservative] operatives here in Texas that are trying to take over school boards.” There were things said about his marriage.
Whitfield’s email came around the time that a slew of new laws were introduced across the country that have reshaped public education. Some target critical race theory, or CRT, an academic framework positing that people who are white have benefited from racism ingrained in U.S. institutions. Some laws penalize discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom.
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As a result, in some places teachers and administrators — already facing long hours and low pay — now find themselves under additional pressure from politicians, parents and even their own school districts. As many schools are losing qualified teachers, they are fighting a uphill battle to improve test scores.
Whitfield was accused at the school board meeting of promoting the idea after he was accused in an email after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law banning CRT in public school classrooms. The board voted not to renew his contract after he denied the charge. In the meantime, he’s on paid administrative leave.
When contacted, the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District referred NPR to a statement issued nearly a year ago that says, “the District and Dr. Whitfield each strongly believe they are in the right.”
“This whole teacher and staff shortage is not just people not coming into the profession, which is an issue, but it is a mass exodus of people in some cases with, you know, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years or more of experience,” Spar says.
A survey published this year by the Rand Corp. found that over a third of teachers and 40% of principals are harassed because of their school’s policies on COVID-19 safety measures.
The situation has a negative impact on students too, says Lindsay Marshall, a former teacher who is now a history professor at the University of Oklahoma.
“It was very clear to me in the classroom that I was not only engaging with my students, I was engaging with their whole world,” Marshall says. When politics gets infused into the classroom, it breaks down that relationship between teachers, students and parents, she says.
Florida has become the center of the controversy, as the governor is trying to change the school curriculum to reflect his conservative values. There is also the governor’s strategy of weighing in on local school board races. The bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics, prohibits teachers from discussing LGBTQ-related topics “in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Michael Woods is a special education teacher with nearly three decades of experience at Santaluces Community High School in Palm Beach County. Outside of school, he’s been involved in organizing local Pride events. He doesn’t talk about it with kids.
Woods says he doesn’t understand the charge by some parents and politicians that teachers are trying to “indoctrinate” students into some sort of liberal ideology. “If I could indoctrinate kids to do something, it would be to bring a pencil to class and to do their homework,” he says jokingly.
The new law could result in the revocation of an educator’s teaching certificate if they are found in violation, “bypassing all the safeguards that we’ve had for decades and decades that were guaranteed by law,” Woods says.
The issue can be cut in two ways. Some educators went public with their protest of the use of critical race theory in their schools on their way out the door.
When James McCormick quit his high school history teacher, he cried out against the injustice of a class that was educating the Suprem
Frank McCormick was a high school history teacher in Illinois for more than a decade, before he stopped teaching at the midway point of the next academic year.
He says he started off pretty progressive, politically and eventually became bored after seeing a very toxic environment at the school.
Over the years, McCormick says he witnessed “increasing politicization” and an ever-bolder liberal ideological agenda among administrators and fellow teachers, especially after the 2016 election. He went public with his concerns at a local school board meeting last year and he excoriated the Suprem as a member of a “bastard class of frauds, enriching herself at the expense of an impoverished community while students suffer.”
Tony Kinnett, who was an instructional coach for the Indianapolis Public Schools, posted criticisms of his school in a video on social media at the same time that James McCormick resigned from his position.
Kinnett was asked in January to testify before the Indiana House on a bill to ban any teaching that would make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress … There are many factors that affect it: sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.
“When schools tell you that we aren’t teaching critical race theory, it means one thing: Go away and look into our affairs no further,” he says in the video. Race essentialism is painted to appear like the district cares about students of color, in fact it isn’t about transparency, cultural relevance or anything like that.
Since his departure, Kinnett has appeared on Fox News and become a regular contributor to The Daily Caller and the conservative magazine National Review. He started his own website called Chalkboard Review, which he says will promote diverse perspectives in education.
Matthew Hawn was fired from Sullivan Central High School in northeast Tennessee, after he got involved in the debate over critical race theory.
It was during a discussion in his class about Kyle Rittenhouse that he said that white privilege is a fact.
The middle school has since become a middle school as a consolidation, and it was in the midst of hybrid learning at the time. When Hawn accidentally uploaded a video of the discussion to the wrong class, an angry parent noticed and emailed school officials. He took the video down.
“Teaching contemporary issues at a time of such massive bitterness would be a difficult task for me, but I was sick over what happened and I had to do something about it,” Hawn says.
Months later, when the topic of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol came up in Hawn’s contemporary issues class, Hawn assigned an essay from The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled “The First White President,” a critique of the presidency of Donald Trump as, among other things, “the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.”
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He likes the courses he teaches because they are controversial. “I think the most controversial ideas are in many ways the most fun to teach because they are intellectually stimulating.”
In the discussions that followed, some students recognized that the violence at the Capitol was not protected speech. Some people said Donald Trump had pushed for the election to be stolen. “Kids are a lot better at talking about politics than adults,” he says.
I’ve heard a lot of bad things about educators. He was berated by community members when he defended LGBTQ students as a child molester.
He’s aware that he can lose his certification as well as the civil case against him because of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law.
He says the job is more important than it has ever been. “At the same time, it would be dishonest for me to say that I’m content here.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he intends to ban state universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in hopes that they will “wither on the vine” without funding.
There are programs that promote multiculturalism and help students from traditionally underrepresented communities feel comfortable on a college campus. The state’s flagship school, the University of Florida, has a “Chief Diversity Officer,” a “Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement” and an “Office for Accessibility and Gender Equity.”
The governor’s office told all state universities in December to account for all of their spending related to diversity, equity and inclusion or critical race theory.
The New College of Florida is a public liberal arts college where DeSantis has installed a new board that has been tasked with remake the school into his conservative vision for higher education. He said his budget would include millions to restructure New College and hire faculty.
One of DeSantis’ new board members, Eddie Speir, wrote in an online post that he planned to propose in that meeting “terminating all contracts for faculty, staff and administration” of the school, “and immediately rehiring those faculty, staff and administration who fit in the new financial and business model.”
The state education department said that the move was a rejection of “woke” diversity, equity and inclusion.
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An English professor at Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University says his job is under review after his employer told him they received a complaint that he is “indoctrinating” students.
Joeckel said he has been teaching a unit on racial justice in classes for many years without complaints until his provost and dean said Wednesday they needed to talk to him “privately” at the end of a class.
I was told they were concerned that I was indoctrinating students. That was the exact word they used: indoctrinating,” Joeckel said. “I had no idea this was coming.”
Palm Beach Atlantic University did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN Saturday. The university said they can not comment on a personnel matter.
PBA is a private Christian university and its employee handbook says, “Discontinuance of employment may occur at any time, without cause, at the discretion of PBA.” The review process for the employment of seniors in the faculty is not offered by the institution.
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Students came to Joeckel’s defense online. Lauren Carleton, who graduated in May, told CNN she had taken two of Joeckel’s classes and didn’t feel she was being pressured to think a certain way.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering plans to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities. And his administration rejected a proposed Advanced Placement African American studies course in high schools.
“Of course I can’t say with certainty the connection, but things like this do not happen in a vacuum. The toxic political culture is what caused me to be in this situation, according to Joeckel.