The Racial Impact of RIFs

By Guest Columnist Mar 23, 2009

by Thomas Morse (This post originally appeared on The Teacher Lounge.) Lost in the outcries over the state budget and the painful cuts to our schools is the racial impact of those cuts. If the youngest teachers in California are given pink slips, who will the students see in their classrooms? Teachers of color are more likely to lose their jobs than white teachers. San Leandro is not unlike most districts in California. More than 70 percent of the students are people of color, but more than two-thirds of the teachers are white. Yet, at a CTA-hosted meeting of San Leandro teachers receiving RIF (reduction in force) notices, 23 teachers showed up, more than half (12) were people of color and 21 were women. Of course, the RIF lists are determined by a combination of factors, especially seniority and appropriate credentials for the teaching assignment. But older teachers are more likely to be white, and teachers of color tend to be younger, with less tenure. So after the cuts are finalized, our kids of color (the majority throughout California) are more likely to see teachers in the classroom who don’t look like them. The bad news is magnified when you consider that the schools likely to see the greatest turnover are the schools with the least-tenured teachers. Those schools tend to be more urban, more diverse, and more impoverished. The bigger the district, the bigger the impact. So in schools where talented young teachers of color have stepped into leadership roles, many of those students will now see older, whiter teachers fill those classrooms, teachers who haven’t established relationships with the students or their parents. The truth is that students will be seeing less of whichever teacher they have, with the dramatic increases in class size that are coming from the budget cuts. No surprise, that impact will also be greater in schools with more kids of color.