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Open Access Publications from the University of California

New Orleans Education Reform: A Guide for Cities or a Warning for Communities? (Grassroots Lessons Learned, 2005-2012)

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Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, co-chair of the Senate Public Charter School Caucus inWashington, DC, hosted a forum for education policymakers. It centered on New Orleans-StyleEducation Reform: A Guide for Cities (Lessons Learned, 2004-2010), a report published by thecharter school incubator New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). Through human capital andcharter school development, the report asserts, New Orleans has become a national leader ineducation reform. In this essay, members of Urban South Grassroots Research Collective,including education scholars and those affiliated with longstanding educational and culturalorganizations in New Orleans, reveal that such reform has been destructive to African Americanstudents, teachers, and neighborhoods. Inspired by critical race theory and the role of experientialknowledge in challenging dominant narratives, authors draw heavily on testimony fromcommunity-based education groups, which have typically been ignored, regarding the inequitableeffects of New Orleans’ school reform. While the Guide for Cities is used as a sounding board forconcerns and critiques, this essay challenges claims that have circulated nationally since 2005—ones that laud New Orleans as a model to be followed. This essay also charts the elite policynetwork that has shaped the city’s reform, with NSNO playing a central part, in order to revealthe accumulative interests of education entrepreneurs. A postscript illustrating parent and studentresistance to charter school reform in New Orleans reminds urban communities elsewhere thatcurrent reforms are not a guide but a threat to those struggling for racial and educational justice.

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