Training Teachers to be Antiracist Sparks Backlash in PA for Good Reasons and Bad

We all agree racism is bad. Right? 

So teaching people to be less racist is good.  

And teaching teachers to be less racist is even better.  

So why are three western Pennsylvania schools suing the state Department of Education (PDE) over guidelines for antiracist teacher training programs? 

The Mars Area, Penn Crest and Laurel school districts filed a lawsuit Monday trying to stop Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration from implementing a program called Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education (CRSE) in every school district in the Commonwealth starting next school year. 

CRSE is a set of 49 cultural competency standards kind of like the Common Core – guidelines for teacher training programs to be used for both new educators and continuing education credits for current educators.  

Plaintiffs complain that the program is vague, requires teachers to think a certain way, encroaches on districts’ autonomy to pick their own curriculum and threatens to take away owed subsidies if districts don’t comply. 

Let’s examine each in turn. 

Is the policy vague? No way. It has nine core competencies, each with between 4 and 7 standards. These are guidelines and certainly don’t outline every possible use, but you could argue they’re detailed to a fault. One regulation requires educators to disrupt harmful institutional practices. Another asks educators to acknowledge microaggressions –  when someone unintentionally expresses prejudice towards a person or group. 

Do they require teachers to think a certain way? Yes. They ask teachers to embrace the idea that racism is bad and to strive to work against it.  I’m not seeing how that’s a problem.

Do they encroach on district’s autonomy? That’s debatable – but should districts really resist taking steps to make themselves less racist?  

Do they threaten districts with loss of funding if schools don’t comply? I don’t see anything explicit in the program that says this, but that could be implicit in the program or have been expressed by PDE employees. In any case, I don’t see why it’s a problem to offer tools to do something you really should want to do anyway.

In short, there’s nothing wrong with the guidelines, per se, if you agree that racism is something schools and teachers should strive against. Now I can’t read people’s minds, and I don’t know explicitly what their motivations are, but the real issue seems to be that certain people don’t believe in the cause.  

They don’t believe racism is much of a problem today or that schools should be engaged in antiracist work.  

It’s a culture war issue for them. That’s all. Republicans vs Democrats. So-called conservatives vs so-called liberals. The usual cable TV political football game. 

However, for some of us, the matter isn’t so simple. 

Frankly, I’m of two minds when it comes to these new guidelines for antiracist teacher training. 

On the one hand, I am in favor of teaching people to be less racist – especially when those people are teachers, themselves, who can spread the message even further and use it to be more fair and equitable to students.  

However, taken in context, such guidelines are little more than passing the buck onto teachers while letting the most powerful get away with doing nothing. 

Consider where these guidelines come from.  

They were created by the previous Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration with help from The New America Foundation. In fact, most of these guidelines come directly from the foundation by use of a creative commons attribution

This is a left-leaning DC think tank with ties to President Barack Obama’s administration. Why does that matter? Look at who funds the organization – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Family Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, etc.  

These are the architects of the most dominant education policies of the last two decades – high stakes standardized testing, charter schools, etc.  

Think about that for a minute.  

Here we have the same people responsible for the most racist public school policies of the last several generations writing guidelines to teach educators how to fight racism! 

Well isn’t that something!?  

Imagine if these same billionaire philanthropists demanded an end to their own policies! Now THAT would be antiracism!

Standardized testing is based on eugenics. Children of color and the poor get lower test scores than wealthier whiter kids BY DESIGN, and we use those scores to justify doing all kinds of terrible things to them – narrowing the curriculum at their schools, cutting funding to anything but test prep, closing their schools and forcing them into unproven privatized alternatives.

Speaking of which, take a look at charter and voucher schools. These are institutions surviving on public tax dollars that aren’t held to the same accountability standards. Charter schools target black and brown kids giving them less quality educations and pocketing the tax money provided to educate them as profit. Voucher schools use tax dollars to fund religious and parochial education, teaching blatantly racist and anti-scientific ideas.  

If the people behind CRSE really wanted to make a dent in racism, they’d abolish these policies.  

If the state really wanted to be antiracist, it would stop the tyranny of high stakes testing, abolish no account charter schools and stop funneling tax dollars to private and parochial schools. It would work to reduce school segregation, equitably fund all districts – especially those serving poor and minority children, etc.

But no. They do none of these things. Instead they throw it all on teachers.  

Once again the powerful do nothing to actually fix our problems but put the burden of our crumbling societies on our crumbling public schools and traumatized teachers. 

THAT’S my problem with this program. 

It’s not that they want to teach teachers to be antiracist and to take steps to create more fair and equitable classrooms. It’s that this is all a smokescreen to allow the people who are really behind many of the racist systems in our society to keep getting away with it and perpetuating more and more inequality. 

I can just imagine how well the state would greet educators “disrupt[ing] harmful institutional practices” by refusing to give standardized tests!

Teachers have an attrition rate of nearly 50% every 5 years. We can’t keep dumping every social problem into their laps and expecting them to perform miracles all by themselves.

Public schools are a PART of the solution to our broken society. But they are not the WHOLE.  

We need real public policy to address these issues. We need to get rid of reductive and prejudicial laws.  

And the fact that we don’t have any of that is certain to poison the fervor of many teachers next year who will be required to sit through antiracist programs paid for and conducted by the same folks behind the public school apartheid that is our everyday reality.  

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I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

7 thoughts on “Training Teachers to be Antiracist Sparks Backlash in PA for Good Reasons and Bad

  1. In Pennsylvania because of ACT 88 of 2002 that hyper funds evil cyber schools you can have well funded public schools that are extremely important and necessary to minorities and the disadvantaged OR you can promote progressive policies like this anti racist stuff. You can NOT have both at the same time. I did NOT write the law but that is the law of the land in Pennsylvania. The anti racist program could be wonderful but if it agitates enough conservatives to take their funding to a corrupt cyber like CCA then you have defunded a public school that the minority and disadvantaged need more than anything to get ahead in life. Unless that law hyperfunding cyber schools like CCA people is updated people need to back way off the progressive policies in Pennsylvania. I venture 80% of enrollment at CCA identifies as strongly conservative and this is how it happened. And unfortunately, Harrisburg state politicians of both political parties very much understand this dynamic and are doing very well with “school choice” campaign donations from the political associates who do well when CCA does well. (Building owners, nonprofits CCA spends our taxpayer money on).

    And this covidcyberscam as I call it has lead to state politicians sneakily doing dozens of things to sabotage public schools via funding and programs that are dangerous (Kooth).


    • Interesting perspective, Edward. I’d say you’re probably right to a degree. However, I think the numbers of so-called conservatives who would pull their kids out of public school over antiracist teacher training is relatively few – maybe 30% at best. But you make a good point about how neoliberal politicians play both sides against each other to promote charter schools, cyber charters and other regressive junk.


      • CCA cyber school enrollment pre-pandemic in 2019 was 9,000 kids and now in 2023 CCA reports 23,000 kids. Because of no pensions, reduced salaries, fewer employees, and less costs of a brick and mortar school CCA is kicking a boatload of money to politicians and associates. CCA makes probably $10,000 per kid and way more for special education kids whom they have a shockingly high percentage of. I guesstimate they spend half that $10,000 to educate kids. The remaining $5,000 x 23,000 kids is $115 million and unsupervised and unaccountable and lacking local oversight. That $115 million is per year and politicians and associates definitely have their hands on it. I venture state politicians are up to some pretty shady things to keep this gravy train running.

        The auditor general hasn’t visited CCA in 14 years and not coincidentally his biggest donor was “school choice” affiliated people aka Jeffrey Yass.

        Having followed the money trail on this thing it appears yearly “Level Up” funding is done to ensure powerful democrats ignore the cyber corruption as “Level up” funding shifts money from rural conservative areas to urban area homes of top democrats. This ensures their silence on cyber corruption despite 93% school boards passing resolutions begging for reform. When do state politicians ship funding away like this when they normally bring it home to celebrate and use it be re-elected? A majority Republican legislature gifted it away to minority Democrats so it has to be a payoff for something big. State Democrats then get rewarded by PSEA for bringing the surplus school funding to their largest member enrollment in Philly and urban areas. Republicans get “school choice” campaign funding, their biggest donor, for maintaining the CCA corruption. They both get campaign cash to win re-election and all state legislators swear loyalty to “school choice” or PSEA which essentially guarantees protection of covidcyberscam. Rank and file know nothing of covidcyberscam but do as told for campaign cash from leadership who is obviously aware of the covidcyberscam. But they all are on same page as a result whether they know it or not.

        My rural school represented by a Republican got me a measly 2.8% state raise with 8% inflation and plenty of smaller rural schools got less than inflation raises. Meanwhile, urban areas like Philly got 20 to 25% state raises. Republicans wrote the budget and they are purposefully starving their own districts because it actually increases chance less funding forces reliance on grants that irritate conservatives constituents in rural Pennsylvania as many grants have things attached specifically to irritate conservatives. They want every last kid they can get to sign up for cyber schools.

        This leads to an entire state government actively sabotaging local school districts.

        They brought a company called Kooth to Pennsylvania for mental health. Company was never exclusively studied in school districts anywhere yet here they are in Pennsylvania invited by state government. PA kids are total Guinea pigs for Kooth. Essentially company is glorified social media and mind you social media is shown clearly bad for teen mental health. Company offers no safety data and has zero government oversight to follow self harm and suicide over years. Anyway, company was heavily involved with gender identity in Europe and state officials while selling benefits Kooth do not mention that at all to unsuspecting school boards signing up. Kooth is anonymous and without parental consent of course. Gender identity issues should not be handled by random strangers with questionable state licensure via a computer. That is for licensed professionals like guidance counselors to refer kids hopefully with support of parents and friends. Lacking that, kids probably safer remaining in the closet until 18 when they can financially support themselves. Whatever Kooth is doing sounds super dangerous to me; especially if child lacks a support structure at home.

        But conservatives families will lose their minds when Foxnews and conservative media gets permission to run stories on Kooth sometime in 2024. Currently, no media will criticize Kooth. For now, Kooth is being placed very quietly into 487 districts. Of course, cyber schools are NOT a client of Kooth as politicians protect them from bad programs. Anyway Kooth is large scale future sabotage when conservative media gets green light to run stories on Kooth. All to increase and maintain CCA enrollment. Kooth could actually increase suicides but hey if it increases CCA enrollment the state politicians do not care. Messed up!

        Their is an evil genius behind this stuff as progressives immediately ignore me for saying state government could misuse Covid mitigation or kids mental health in this manner and conservatives hate me for speaking ill of “school choice” like CCA as they have been fed propaganda it is way to hold public schools accountable. And unfortunately, nobody pays attention to the law that kicks starts the problem—-ACT 88 of 2002. A very unique law to Pennsylvania.

        I have been fighting the covidcyberscam for years to little success. I believe it to be the biggest scam in history of USA. At its heart it is a privatization scheme similar to when judges in luzerne county sent kids to private prisons for kickbacks. Kids for cash scandal. This however, involves cyber schools and legislators and nothing is illegal as law allows it. It is however very unethical but the covidcyberscam is hidden as there is no cyber tax and politicians do well because of covidcyberscam and media does well as cyber schools recruit heavily via media and politicians use connected campaign donations in the media. So nobody exists to stop the covidcyberscam unfortunately.


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