New Orleans established the nation’s first all-charter school district, but is it working? One CEHD faculty member investigates
“Knowing the history of New Orleans and seeing what transpired in the days after Katrina really made me think that we need to be watching very closely who will step into this vacuum,” said Buras, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. “What is going to happen to people who have been displaced? Who’s going to step into this vacuum and start making decisions about public schools and neighborhoods?”
In a new book entitled, “Charter schools, race, and urban space: Where the market meets grassroots resistance,” Buras outlines how local, state and federal policymakers worked to create the nation’s first all-charter school system in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina – a system that’s been plagued by disproportionate funding and gross racial inequities in schools in different neighborhoods, inconsistent and selective application processes across schools, and the replacement of local, veteran teachers with those recruited by nonprofit organizations, among other issues.
One of the problems that stands out most to Buras is that local residents haven’t had the opportunity to share their opinions on and be a part of the rebuilding process – a main impetus for writing the book.
“There are very few longstanding grassroots groups in the city of New Orleans who have been consulted about what they want in the schools or what they think is important,” she said. “Shouldn’t the members of a community be the first people to have a voice in the rebuilding of their schools and their neighborhoods? There were concerns that this wasn’t happening and I felt it was important that those voices be heard.”
Buras also references reports from national organizations touting what they call the “New Orleans model” of charter schools and suggesting its replication in cities across the country, despite the fact that the vast majority of the city’s charter schools have been rated D or F by the state of Louisiana and still continue to operate.
Buras hopes readers see the problems that can arise when trying to effect change without making community members’ voices part of the conversation.
“Shouldn’t the members of a community be the first people to have a voice in the rebuilding of their schools and their neighborhoods?”
– Kristen Buras
“I’ve tried to illuminate in the book that there are community voices saying, ‘This is not good for our kids, this is not what we want and this is something that’s contested,’” she said. “The final lesson here is that any school reform that purports to help a community but simultaneously ignores the voices of that community cannot be a democratic reform. Any reform that’s truly democratic requires the input of the people who are directly affected – the students, teachers, educational activists and all the families who make up a community. They should be at the forefront of the discussion around how to better urban schools.”