“A Union of Paraprofessionals?: Paraprofessional Organizing in Education, 1968-1978”
Friday, November 8, 2013
The paper analyzes the creation and development of paraprofessional programs in public education, focusing on New York City as both a case study and a hub for the promotion of programs nationwide. In the mid-1960s, school districts in low- income communities across the United States used funds provided by federal legislation to hire local residents, primarily the mothers of schoolchildren, to work in public schools. “Paras” provided instructional and disciplinary assistance in classrooms, worked in their neighborhoods to forge links between schools and communities, and trained to become teachers. Poorly paid at first, paras unionized with locals of the American Federation of Teachers, beginning in New York City in 1969. Hundreds of thousands of paras worked in American schools by the mid- 1970s. I believe this study fresh perspectives on histories of education, social protest, teacher unionism, and, more broadly the relationship between education, poverty, and the welfare state. Paras worked to integrate the teaching corps and promote community participation in schooling, but also joined unions and fought to make their locals equally responsive to community needs. Like many War on Poverty initiatives, para programs focused on education and training, but they also created jobs and redistributed resources to communities. Preliminary research suggests that paras remade schools, communities, and unions (and the relationships between them) in ways that improved public education in this era, and might inform current debates about the role of communities and unions in schools.