Sunday, July 24, 2005

Can Whites Teach Blacks?

Teachers' Racial Makeup In Hartford Spurs Debate

Courant Staff Writer

Race was at the heart of the Hartford school system's most wrenching incidents this year.

A white principal didn't make it through the year at Simpson-Waverly Classical Magnet School, in a mostly black neighborhood, after she hired all white teachers to replace retirees, setting the tone for a racially charged atmosphere that seemed to worsen every week.

At the end of the year, parents and students also complained bitterly to the school board that a Simpson-Waverly music teacher told kids she didn't like "black music." The music teacher, who denies ever saying such a thing, had previously filed a complaint of her own accusing three black teachers in the school of racially harassing her and encouraging their students to misbehave in her class.

And a black principal in the district's most troubled school, Milner Elementary School, attributed her school's woes, in part, to white teachers being culturally out of tune with black students.

Hartford's political focus on racial balance has long helped determine the composition of the school board and the selection of the superintendent and even principals. But it has rarely reached down to the classrooms as it did this year.

School officials whiplashed by this year's incidents are now debating some tough questions: Can white teachers effectively teach children of color? Is the lagging achievement of children of color caused in part by low expectations of white teachers? And are white educators to blame for the high rate of minority group members directed to special education services?