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1 - Bending the Arc Toward Justice: New Orleans, Black Education, and the National and International Struggle Against Market-Based Reform - Interactive Town Hall Session

Sun, April 19, 8:15 to 10:15am, Hyatt, Floor: East Tower - Gold Level, Grand CDEF

Session Type: Invited Speaker Session


Over the past decade, New Orleans has become ground zero for market-based education reform. There is no other city in the nation with a higher proportion of privately managed charter schools or a more aggressive campaign of alternative teacher recruitment. Almost every public school in New Orleans is a charter school and the city's black veteran teachers were unlawfully fired en masse in 2005 (Civil District Court, 2012) and replaced by mostly white inexperienced teachers with little knowledge of the culture, heritage, and history of the community. Notably, New Orleans, deemed "one of America's most African cities" by Clyde Robertson and Joyce King (2007), has been touted in myriad reports since 2005 as a national education reform model to be replicated in cities across the nation:

 Born on the Bayou: A New Model for American Education by Third Way (Osborne, 2012);
 The Louisiana Recovery School District: Lessons for the Buckeye State by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Smith, 2012; for a critique, see Buras, 2012b);
 Creating Opportunity Schools: A Bold Plan to Transform Indianapolis Public Schools by the Mind Trust (2011);
 Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (Hill et al., 2009);
 After Katrina: Rebuilding Opportunity and Equity into the New New Orleans by the Urban Institute (Hill & Hannaway, 2006); and
 From Tragedy to Triumph: Principled Solutions for Rebuilding Lives and Communities by the Heritage Foundation (Meese, Butler, & Holmes, 2005).

Additionally, there has been much discussion in the media about the "success" of the New Orleans model. Major news outlets from Time Magazine (Isaacson, 2007) and the New York Times (Tough, 2008) to the Wall Street Journal (Kaminski, 2011) and the Washington Post (Armao, 2012) have highlighted New Orleans as a source of inspiration and a site of innovation.
White entrepreneurs and philanthropists (and some black allies) have adopted the language of civil rights and argued that the privatization of education in black working-class neighborhoods advances racial justice. In opposition, longstanding educators, students, and parents in New Orleans have articulated serious concerns about the effects of charter school reform on the culture and cohesion of black communities (Buras, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011a, 2011b, 2012a, 2012b, 2014; Buras et al., 2010, 2013). Rather than bending toward justice, they assert, such reform has facilitated what David Harvey (2006) calls "accumulation by

dispossession," a process in which the assets belonging to one group are put in circulation as capital for another group's benefit.
In this two-hour session, noted activist scholars address the central question at the heart of President Joyce King's call: Whose interests have been served by market-based reform in urban communities? Responding to research generated by the New Orleans-based Urban South Grassroots Research Collective, including the experiential knowledge of community members with charter school reform, scholars will "speak back" to entrepreneurs and policymakers who assert that education privatization serves a compelling interest for racially oppressed communities. Expanding the dialogue beyond New Orleans, participants will collectively consider how such reforms have affected public schools and neighborhoods in cities nationwide, including Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, and elsewhere. Perhaps most important, they will highlight the "freedom dreams" (Kelley, 2002) or alternative conceptions of justice that have animated grassroots struggles against marketization and the forms of cultural, linguistic, and historical capital that have enabled communities to defend themselves in the midst of this racially-inspired corporate assault.
Each participating scholar will receive a copy of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance (Buras, 2014) in advance of the presidential session. This book chronicles the past decade of reform in New Orleans, charting elite entrepreneurial networks as well as grassroots resistance to privatization, and provides an overview of the commentary to be offered at the beginning of the session. Following opening remarks on New Orleans, scholars on the panel will be invited to share reflections that critically and creatively address the following three questions:

 Should New Orleans define the future of black education? Why or why not?
 How have the "New Orleans model" of reform and the culture of the market influenced public schools and education policy in cities nationally and globally?
 What are the principles and practices that have animated struggles for educational justice in black working-class communities historically and in the current era of market-based reform? How have culture, language, and heritage served as resources in such struggles?

Scholarly commentaries will be offered in an organic way and in the tradition of James Baldwin's "Talk to Teachers" (1963), which was concise, compelling, and liberatory in its implications.

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