The Crusader Newspaper Group

CPS screening process discriminated against Black candidates

By Sara Karp,

Chicago Public Schools has admitted a teacher screening process used since 2012 discriminated against black and Latino applicants.

The process blocked many applicants of color from even getting interviews.

The district agreed the process was unfair and halted it after WBEZ learned of the disparity this year through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to 2015 data released by CPS, which got the data from the private company that conducted the screenings, 74 percent of the 2,417 white applicants advanced to the pool of potential hires. Of the 430 Latino candidates, 58 percent made it. And of the 729 black candidates, just 45 percent made it.

CPS officials didn’t have an explanation for the disparity.

“Obviously, when we saw the data it was troubling, which is why we sought to reverse that policy swiftly,” Chief of Education Janice Jackson said. “Obviously, any type of practice that puts people in a disadvantage and — with this situation where a minority or another subgroup is disproportionately impacted — we want to shut that down quickly. We want to strike that down quickly.”

But the district could still be in trouble with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for using the screening process, and the numbers call into question if the decline in black teachers is because of the lack of applicants or because of the process.

In 2014-2015, the most recent data available, 22.3 percent of the CPS teaching staff were black, 20 percent were Latino and half were white. Meanwhile, 39.3 percent of students were black, 45.6 were Latino and 9.4 percent were white.

As recently as a decade ago, about 40 percent of CPS teachers were black.

Studies have increasingly shown it is important for black students to have black teachers, who tend to demand more from black students academically and help them build confidence. Black teachers are also role models for black students.

But studies also found it is important for white students to be exposed to a diverse teaching staff.

‘They can be non-service workers’

Michelle Evans, an African-American teacher at Nettelhorst Elementary School in the Lakeview neighborhood, said she and her roommate, who is white, talk about how her race provides important perspectives for students.

“We notice that on the North Side the service industry is made almost entirely of minorities, so we have said white kids that grow up on the North Side of Chicago grow up thinking that black and Hispanic people work at grocery stores and at retail stores and are bus drivers,” Evans said. “When they see someone like me and my administrator, who break the mold, at least they have some kind of idea they can be principals, they can be teachers, they can be non-service workers.”

That is one reason Evans was disturbed when she had trouble getting a CPS job.

Evans said she almost gave up because of the screening process, which data now proves had a negative impact on minority hiring.

The process was used to place new applicants into the next phase of hiring, known as the “teacher quality pool.” Applicants had to provide two references from administrators and answer three questions.

Over the past two years, the district outsourced the process to a private company and the screening was done via a recorded telephone line.

The questions involved a variety of topics, from classroom management to planning and preparation, to how an applicant would communicate with parents and the community.

Evans, who is now in her second year of teaching at Nettelhorst, called the process “weird.”

“It was just really vague questions, like explain a time in your classroom when you had to deal with a difficult situation and how did you do it,” she said. “They use a robot to ask the question. You get two minutes to think about it and then your response can only be recorded once and it had to be three minutes.”


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