Monday, August 19, 2013

Important lessons from the New Orleans "reform"

A new article in the Berkley Review of Education is a scathing review of the education “reform” movement in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

In the article, titled “New Orleans Education Reform: A Guide for Cities of a Warning for Communities?” writer Kristen Buras deconstructs the praise heaped on the collapse of the city’s public education system and its replacement with a largely charter school network.

Buras and members of the Urban South Grassroots Research Collective take issue with the conventional wisdom that believes New Orleans is better off under a regime of quasi-private charter schools.

“Instead, she writes, “we assert that current reforms, including human capital and charter school development, have been immensely destructive to African American students, veteran teachers, and historically black neighborhoods in New Orleans. Ours is a warning for communities nationally. These ‘reforms’ are not a guide for cities; they are a stark threat to the education, cultural integrity, and political-economic power of communities struggling for a semblance of justice.”

The article briefly described the series of events following Katrina that led up to the reconstruction of the city’s school system. Those included the mass firing of thousands of veteran, mostly African-American educators, and drastic revisions to state laws under pressure from the federal government and business interests.

The well-researched, peer reviewed article includes several lessons learned from the “destructive reforms that education entrepreneurs hope to spread.” Hopefully, paying attention to these lessons will save other school districts from repeating New Orleans’ mistakes:

First Lesson: Marginalization of indigenous veteran teachers and leaders is viewed as innovative by education entrepreneurs, who recruit inexperienced staff to teach in charter schools at the expense of our children.

Second Lesson: The development and expansion of privately managed charter schools threaten to restructure public education as a business, with indigenous traditions and place-based curricula giving way to management practices that have little connection to students and what they need to achieve and thrive.

Third Lesson: Rather than universally respecting students’ right to learn, charter schools focus on cost containment in special education and may exclude or fail to adequately serve students based on such concerns.

Fourth Lesson: Human capital and charter school development are reforms imposed from above without genuine community engagement regarding how to improve local public schools.

Buras is currently writing about the mass firings of New Orleans teachers for a book to be published in the near future.

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