Archives for category: New Orleans

One day, perhaps, the nationaledia might admit that they were taken in by the purveyors of the Néw Orleans story. Or maybe they will keep saying the same things again and again, without regard to facts.

Mike Deshotels, veteran educator, blows up the carefully manufactured tale of success by privatization. What a lesson for the nation: close down every public school; turn every school into a privately managed charter school; fire every experienced teacher and replace with a fresh college graduate with give weeks of training. Is this the formula for success in any other nation? No.

Deshotels writes that:

“The Louisiana Department of education has just released the results of the state accountability testing called LEAP and ILEAP. The report includes a percentile ranking of each of the public school systems in the state according to the performance of their students in math, and english language arts. The latest student testing results and these percentile rankings demonstrate the appalling academic performance of the Louisiana Recovery District (The RSD results are given near the bottom of the chart). After more than eight years of state takeover and conversion of public schools in Louisiana into privately run charter schools, even the most ardent promoters of this radical privatization experiment can no longer hide its spectacular failure.”

“The latest state testing results in this official LDOE report now ranks the New Orleans Recovery District at the 17th percentile among all Louisiana public school districts in student performance. By the state’s own calculations, this means that 83 percent of the state’s school districts provide their students a better opportunity for learning than do the schools in New Orleans that were taken over and converted into charter schools. Considering the fact that a special law was passed for New Orleans that allowed the state to take over, not just failing schools, but any school performing below the state average at that time, this 17th percentile ranking places the New Orleans takeover schools just about where they were before the takeover. But in addition, the schools taken over by the Recovery District in Baton Rouge and other areas are now ranked at the 2 percentile and 0 percentile levels respectively, after 6 years of state and charter school control. That means that these two portions of the Louisiana Recovery District are absolutely the poorest performers on the state accountability testing. In two of the schools run by the RSD, the academic results and the enrollments had deteriorated so much that the Recovery District has recently given them back to the local school school board systems. This latest move apparently violates the whole premise behind the RSD.”

Despite these facts, why does the media continue to praise this failed experiment?

Earlier, I posted about “the triumph of reform” in New Orleans, referring to an article in the Washington Post on the final conversion of that district to all-charter. One commenter said there are still six public schools in New Orleans, but even so the point of the article was that this is the first urban district in which all or almost all schools are privately managed.

Mercedes Schneider, writing at warp speed, says, “not so fast.”

Reformers used to speak about the New Orleans miracle.” Now they’ve dialed it back to “improvement.” But, Schneider says, even that is an exaggeration.

(Schneider has many links to document her statements. Please read her post to find the links.)

What about that so-called “improvement”:

“I would like to clarify a few of Layton’s glossy statements about RSD.

“Let us begin with this one:

The creation of the country’s first all-charter school system has improved education for many children in New Orleans.

“Layton offers no substantial basis for her opinion of “improvement” other than that the schools were “seized” by the state following Katrina.

“Certainly school performance scores do not support Layton’s idea of “improvement.” Even with the inflation of the 2013 school performance scores, RSD has no A schools and very few B schools. In fact, almost the entire RSD– which was already approx 90 percent charters– qualifies as a district of “failing” schools according to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s definition of “failing schools” as C, D, F schools and whose students are eligible for vouchers.

“The district grade for RSD “rose” to a C due to a deliberate score inflation documented here and here.

“The purpose of vouchers is to enable students to escape “failing” schools. Ironic how the predominately-charter RSD has the greatest concentration of such “failing” schools in the entire state of Louisiana.”

She writes:

“After eight years, RSD does not have a single A school. One can see the need to bury the “miracle” message.

“As to “corruption”– do not believe Kingsland’s misleading words that “corruption” did not happen in RSD following Katrina. Here’s just a brief example:

‘The relatively gargantuan salaries of many of the consultants who appeared to rule the new system was another factor in the public’s general unease. Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. The firm’s contracts continued unchallenged, despite the fact that one of its chief assignments — the disposition of left-over NOPS real estate — was being handled without the services of a single architect, engineer, or construction expert. This omission cost the city a year of progress in determining how and where to rebuild broken schools, and endangered hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA money. It only came to light when the two Pauls [Pastorek and Vallas] were forced to hire yet more consultants for real estate duty, and to bring in the National Guard to oversee the engineering operations. … [Emphasis added.]‘

“Compare the above blatant robbery of school funding with Layton’s words about OPSB pre-Katrina:

“When Katrina struck in 2005, the public schools in New Orleans were considered among the worst in the country. Just before the storm, the elected Orleans Parish School District was bankrupt and couldn’t account for about $71 million in federal money.”

Schneider says the bottom line in New Orleans is: “Charter churn, churn, churn.”

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post describes the triumph of the reform movement in New Orleans: The last public school has closed for good.

A few observations.

All schools in New Orleans are now charter schools. .

It’s hard to compare achievement pre-and post-Katrina because so many students never returned after the hurricane. Test scores are up, graduation rates are up, but populations are different. “By most indicators, school quality and academic progress have improved in Katrina’s aftermath, although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons because the student population changed drastically after the hurricane, with thousands of students not returning.

“Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.”

There are no more neighborhood schools.

Almost all the teachers were fired. Almost all the fired teachers were African American. They were replaced mostly by white Teach for America recruits. The fired teachers won a lawsuit for wrongful termination and are owed $1 billion.

The central bureaucracy has been swept away.

“The city is spending about $2 billion — much of it federal hurricane recovery money — to refurbish and build schools across the city, which are then leased to charter operators at no cost.”

A curious fact: “White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.”

Observation by State Superintendent John White: “The city’s conversion to charters promises the best outcome for the most students, White said. “These kinds of interventions are never easy things,” he said. “When you look at overall outcomes, they’ve been positive. Does it have collateral negative effects? Of course. But does it work generally for the better? Yes.”

Formula for success: close public schools. Open charter schools. Fire veteran teachers. Replace them with TFA. Spend billions to refurbish buildings. This is the same formula that is being imported to urban districts across the nation. Is it sustainable? Did it really “work” or is this a manufactured success, bolstered by billions from the Waltons and other philanthropists who favor privatization?

Grassroots community groups in Néw Orleans, Newark, and Chicago filed complaints of violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the Justice Department and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. They seek an investigation of racially discriminatory school closings in their communities.

They wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Arne Duncan:

“Journey for Justice is a coalition of grassroots organizations in twenty-two cities across the country. The coalition has come together because, across our communities, education “reformers” and privatizers are targeting neighborhood schools filled with children of color, and leaving behind devastation. By stealth, seizure, and sabotage, these corporate profiteers are closing and privatizing our schools, keeping public education for children of color, not only separate, not only unequal, but increasingly not public at all.

“Adding insult to injury, the perpetrators of this injustice have cloaked themselves in the language of the Civil Rights Movement. But too many of the charter and privately-managed schools that have multiplied as replacements for our beloved neighborhood schools are test prep mills that promote prison-like environments, and seem to be geared at keeping young people of color controlled, undereducated, and dehumanized. Children of color are not collateral damage. Our communities are not collateral damage.

“Thus, we stand in solidarity, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization in Chicago, Coalition for Community Schools and Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes in New Orleans, New Jersey’s Parents Unified for Local School Education in Newark, and Journey for Justice member organizations across the country, to shed light on the racial injustice of school closings.

“Neighborhood schools are the hearts of our communities, and the harm caused by just one school closure is deep and devastating. This is death by a thousand cuts.”

There is deep irony and sadness in the fact that these community groups are appealing for justice even as the nation commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision striking down legal segregation.

There is deep irony and sadness in the fact that these complaints are filed to the administration of the nation’s first black president.

There is deep irony and sadness in the fact that these complaints are directed at the policies not of racist governors but of the Obama administration itself.

Secretary Duncan has encouraged and funded the school closings that are at the heart of the complaints. He has applauded and funded the privatization of schools in black communities. He openly admires the “no excuses” charter schools that emphasize control over education and that teach strict conformity to arbitrary rules, not the habits of mind and dispositions of a free people.

In effect, the Obama administration is being asked to overrule its own education policies. How sad. How ironic.

Just as there have been many public resignations by teachers in public schools who feel beaten down by mandates and by the high-stakes testing regime, there is now an emerging genre of resignation letters by young people who joined short-term programs like Teach for America.

This one, by Sydney Miller, is poignant and beautifully written. Sydney was part of TeachNola, which brought in young graduates like herself who made only a one-year commitment.

The question that all these statements pose is larger than the situation of the individual. We should all wonder, as we read these letters, about the relentless demolition of teaching as a career, as a calling, as a life, as a choice that–like all choices–has its pluses and minuses. Even for someone recruited to TFA, the allure was strong, but the reality was spiritually damaging. We should ask, as we read her reflections, whether the leaders of the fake reform movement actually intend to destroy the teaching profession and whether they understand the damage they do to the lives of real people–of children, denied an experienced and well-prepared teacher; of career teachers, treated shabbily, of the idealistic young people who enter TFA, only to find that their idealism has been cynically betrayed.

Sydney writes:


“Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.”

– Nadine Stair, 85, Louisville, Kentucky

Earlier this month, I saw a jazz show at Snug Harbor Bistro. Khari Allen introduced his band and an accompanying artist named Marcus Akinlana. As Khari and the New Creative Collective buzzed, strummed, and breathed the noises of their souls, Akinlana moved vibrant colors across black paper to imitate the movements of his heart and mind. I sat in a narrow wooden chair, lost in wonder. Whether my eyes were open or closed, my body seemed to beat, sway and absorb the art that seeped into every corner of the small room. An hour had passed when I came out of this coma and I silently thanked the artists and myself for allowing those moments to have taken place. I was present, and it was a gift.


Since leaving the classroom about a month ago, I have been working on enjoying moments and taking the time to pay attention to what is going on around me. I am trying to enjoy the process, whatever process that may be at a given time, and allow my mind to live in the present.


This has been difficult. In the world of charter education from which I have recently emerged, there is a trend of urgency. That urgency comes from investing in the idea that catching up in school is the answer to solving poverty or the key to more opportunity.


While there is an urgent fight to be had, it seems the charter model is running down the wrong path. Our country is not in a state of crisis because people are not performing well on standardized tests or being accepted into college; our country is in a state of crisis because the individuals who live within it are failing to appreciate moments, people and spaces. Service programs and charter schools are pursuing an abstract “cause” and forgetting to see and hear the individuals whom these systems are supposedly serving. A plethora of new teachers and schools have implanted themselves on sacred ground, and are yielding to the sole priority of higher test scores, while failing to appreciate the importance of a culture, unique to any other that our country has to offer.

While providing insufficient services, charters disenfranchise the communities they serve, profit from self-acclaimed successes, and fail to critically examine their methods to understand their failures. Holding test scores as a solution to poverty does nothing to empower oppressed communities. In fact, this practice often facilitates further oppression.

It was a Thursday afternoon staff meeting. Pale, tired faces gathered around in one seamless circle for announcements and “shout-outs” — which were a regular part of our meetings, in an effort to raise morale. In the back corner of the cafeteria knelt Kevin, a tall, handsome young man in the senior class, and member of the football team. He crouched with one knee on a stool and one cleat on the ground, next to Jim, our school’s handyman. The two worked together to tighten and adjust Kevin’s football helmet to fit. They alternated using the drill and stabilizing the table and helmet. I watched them working together from across the room, and noticed how their gestures, out of instinct, generously accommodated the other’s movements.

A few members of the staff became aware of their presence, and someone raised an accusatory finger in their direction. Our principal whipped her head around. As she realized their presence, she immediately demanded, “Jim, get him out!” Their working momentum broke like a brittle stick, and Kevin’s short dreadlocks rose to send a hurt and disturbed glare towards our circle. He took the helmet in two hands and slammed it against the surface of the table before turning to jam open a heavy door under a fluorescent red Exit sign.

As the door shut behind him, so did the school value of “Respect,” perfectly centered and stapled to red construction paper, mounted on the door with our common definition: “Treat others how you want to be treated.” The meeting proceeded.

One beautiful thing about teaching is that nearly every aspect of your life can be related back to your job. As one learns through experience, “best practices” can hopefully find a place in the classroom. Throughout the past year, I was intent on discovering how I learn best, trying to employ these same tactics for my students. I came to fairly obvious conclusions: I learn best in environments where I feel safe, appreciated, and respected. On the contrary, if I am rushed, or I can tell I am unappreciated or undervalued, my focus collapses into surface level thinking. This pattern held true for the students I worked with, and I can only assume for most other human beings.

At a number of the ever-proliferating charter schools in New Orleans, the school policies contradict their self-acclaimed value of “respect,” and in turn, inhibit the possibility for meaningful learning to take place. When students arrive at school and are told to be silent in hallways and cafeterias, they are being sent a clear message: the people in charge do not trust you and do not respect you. They are being told that whatever manner in which they naturally is exist and interact is inappropriate.

If their “low achieving” test scores are projected on Promethean Boards without context of the biases that produce these disparities, then students will continue to internalize the feeling that they are the problem. If a higher emphasis is placed on the absence of their black leather belt — rather than their current mental state — then students will begin to lose trust in the adults that are supposed to care for them. Furthermore, if students are surrounded by white teachers from privileged backgrounds, who have college degrees and who dictate the meaning of success, it might be conflicting for them to see a place for themselves in this sphere of elitists. They may also begin to wonder what is wrong with their people, that there are so few black teachers in an all black school.

A friend forwarded me an email about a course entitled Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) taking place at the United Teacher’s of New Orleans, and I enrolled. The space was starkly simple, especially in contrast with the complexity that filled the room once our sessions began. On the third session of SEED, as I sat in the now familiar navy, plastic chairs, atop the off-white linoleum floor, I listened to the soothing words of Davina Allen, our instructor. Around the circle sat people with faces of all colors and ages. Together in the room we read through Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Each person took a turn reading:


“1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”

“2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.”

“3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.”


And the list goes on.


It was Katrena Ndang’s turn to read. She is 70, and was born and raised in New Orleans. White hairs threaded through her narrow dreadlocks, a few twisted gently in the back of her head, with the rest falling softly on her neck. Her beautiful hands held the paper and the side of the chair she sat on. Her reading glasses balanced at the bottom of her nose, and her eyes squinted down at the paper. When she read, her voice sounded worn and disenchanted, as though she had read these words 10,000 times before.


She breathed out a sigh, and a revelation came to fruition: She had read these words 10,000 times before. Based on her stories and insights she shared with the group, it seemed that Ms. Ndang has thought about race every day, for 70 years. She has never had the privilege, as I have, of picking and choosing the hours of her day when race, and everything that it has come to mean, would affect her and her loved ones. She has never had the choice to opt in or out of a fight for anti-racism. And that is what privilege is.

As Nadine Stair wisely pointed out in her old age, moments are meaningful when we stop looking so far ahead. When schools are too preoccupied with results, it is tempting to deny a reality that good teaching responds to the needs of those individuals who occupy the classroom. This set of needs cannot be prematurely predicted or determined. When a need for control and synchronization mutes the sincerity of moments, classrooms become oppressive for all parties involved.


In the spring of 2013, I turned down an offer to spend a second year at the charter school where I began my teaching career. I said no more to demerits, lazy leadership, and the assignment to design curricula for 10th graders who were already years behind grade level, and would further suffer from my lack of experience. I quit reading e-mails that began with “Team and Family,” and followed with a laundry list of senseless tasks that challenged me to prove my loyalty to children by grading hundreds of exit tickets and attending hours of professional development that taught me to read numbers instead of people. I said goodbye to a GoogleCal that is so full you forget to pick your head up and look around you to see the damage you might have caused towards people you care about.


September 2, 2013, I quit my second job. I was a double quitter. I said goodbye to school values bargained for monetary prizes so that students could buy Blow Pops if they showed respect to their oppressors. I said “see ya” to test prep after test prep, silent study hall and lunch detention. I said “no thanks” to revering a set of formalized control tactics as my guide to becoming a great teacher, and the skills of conformity to feign success. I said “peace out” to standing in circles that silently requested I do favors for people I did not trust in exchange for shout-outs. I put a rest to the habit of telling students to be powerful while giving them demerits for speaking at all. I stopped calling students “scholars” to fool them into thinking that their education system had not failed them miserably, and I stopped suspending students for a phone that slipped from their pocket, and a subsequent refusal to turn over what is rightfully theirs. I walked away from barking the acronym SPARK, so that the position of their bodies could feed directly into the assertion of my control.


I’m a quitter of damaging institutions and disingenuous moments. I am sorry for the students I turned my back on, and can only hope that my exit has validated a common sentiment that the school system they are subject to is unjust. One day, I’ll be strong and wise enough to help change these systems, but I’m not there yet. So for now, I’ll keep quitting.

Sydney Miller has dreams of becoming an excellent English teacher. She is from New York City, and moved to New Orleans after college.

For five years, I have listened to Arne Duncan lecture the American people about how terrible our public schools are.


He goes on at length about our ignorant students, our misguided parents, our ineffective teachers, our failing public schools.


In his eyes, we seem to be a nation of slackers, bums, ignoramuses, fools, and failures.


We know that he likes: charter schools, Teach for America, closing public schools and handing them over to corporate management, and “graduate schools” that have no scholars, no researchers, just tutors of test-taking skills. And of course, he loves the heavy emphasis on test-taking in places like Shanghai and Singapore. Test scores are his North Star. He wishes we could be like Shanghai, and that all our moms were “Tiger Moms,” cracking the whip over the children and making them get ready for the next test. All work, no play. He dreams of a new America of test-taking grinds. Arne Duncan is our Mr. Gradgrind, and if you don’t know who that is, google it.


Every once in a while, he launches a campaign calling for “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” but no one believes him. They know it is just empty PR.


So, I wonder, what are the unforgettable phrases of Arne Duncan that will be his legacy, the words that encapsulate his unique combination of certainty and cluelessness.


Entry one must be his immortal comment about Hurricane Katrina, which caused the deaths of over 1,000 people and wiped out public education and the teachers’ union in New Orleans: He said that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” Forget the fact that the great majority of charter schools in New Orleans today are rated either D or F by the state of Louisiana (which favors them). According to Secretary Duncan, every major city needs a Hurricane Katrina or some other natural disaster to demolish public education and eliminate teachers’ unions so they can be replaced by privately managed charter schools and Teach for America. Of course, then Teach for America would have to train 1,000,000 teachers a year instead of only 10,000, and it would put an end to the teaching profession, but Arne hasn’t thought that far in advance.


Entry two was captured by Gary Rubinstein in this post on his blog: At Teach for America’s 20th anniversary celebration, Arne Duncan was a featured speaker. He told the story of a school that had only a 40% graduation rate. The school was shut down and replaced by three charter schools. One graduated all of its students, and all were accepted into college. Duncan said: “Same children, same community, same poverty, same violence. Actually went to school in the same building with different adults, different expectations, different sense of what’s possible. Guess what? That made all the difference in the world.” Gary pointed out that the students were not the same kids, and that the 107 who graduated were not the same as the 166 who started in the class. Yes, the graduation rate was higher, but it was not the 100% that Arne implied. And to make matters worse, the students at that particular “miracle school” had lower test scores than the Chicago school district. But Arne was trying to promote his theory that schools get better if everyone is fired and the slate is wiped clean.


Then there was the time last year when he sneered at parents in New York state who objected to the absurd Common Core tests as “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” He quickly tried to walk that one back, but it stuck. He deeply believes that our kids are dummies and their parents want to believe that they are smart when they are not. I guess you need to have a Harvard B.A. to be so arrogant about the brainpower of other people’s children.


My personal favorite occurred when he visited a charter school in Brooklyn. He told those assembled that the United States is facing both an economic crisis and an educational crisis. And then came this immortal line: “We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not,’ ” he said. “Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.”


The claim that we are “lying to our students” or “we are lying to our children” is like a mantra for Arne, so that’s not new. What is special about this line is the idea that you should be able to look every second grader in the eye and be able to tell them that they are on track to go to a good college. Since I have a grandson who is in second grade, I know how absurd this is. I look into his eyes and I see a laughing, happy child. That’s what I want to see. Sometimes I see a sad child, and I want to know what’s wrong and can I help. I see a child who loves to read and loves to play. The last thing in the world that would occur to me as a parent, a grandparent, or an educator is to ask whether he was on track to go to a good college. I want him to be on track to be happy, healthy, curious about the world, eager to learn, and secure in the love that surrounds him.

Julian Vasquez Heilig collected his Top Ten of Arne’s Inanities.

The reality is that it is easy to find Arne’s clueless remarks. They occur whenever he goes off script.


What is your favorite Arne Duncan line? I have known almost every Secretary of Education since the U.S. Department of Education was created in 1980. I have never known one who had so little respect for students, educators, parents, school boards, or public education as our current Secretary. Nor have I known one who had so little understanding about what constitutes genuine learning. Not test scores, but a love of learning, a love of tinkering, a love of knowledge. It is innovation, creativity, imagination, curiosity, wit, and the pursuit of new knowledge that is the genius of our nation. Those who care not to preserve those essential aspects of education are not educators, but technicians, bureaucrats, and bean counters.


My wish: Arne Duncan should take the PARCC test for eighth graders and publish his scores.


Julian Vasquez Heilig posted a narrative by the dean of students at a Néw Orleans charter school, describing the harsh treatment meted out to students–especially black males–at the school.

The author writes that the best way to understand the tightly structured culture at the charter school was through post-colonial studies.

The dean writes:

“Are some charters’ practices new forms of colonial hegemony? When examining current discipline policies and aligned behavioral norms within charter school spaces, postcolonial theory is useful because of the striking similarities between problematic socialization practices and the educational regimes of the uncivilized masses in colonized nations. A number of postcolonial theorists focus on multiple ways that oppressors dominate their subjects and maintain power over them. For example, while working as the Dean of Students for a charter school in New Orleans, it took me some time to realize that I had been enforcing rules and policies that stymied creativity, culture and student voice. Though some of my main duties involved ensuring the safety and security of all students and adults at the school, investigating student behavioral incidents and establishing a calm and positive school culture, I felt as if I was doing the opposite.”

The dean explained the routines and demands that enforced conformity, punished black children for wearing their hair natural, and sent children to detention for trivial offenses.

“Lastly, everything at the school was done in a militaristic/prison fashion. Students had to walk in lines everywhere they went, including to class and the cafeteria. The behavioral norms and expectations called for all students to stand in unison with their hands to their sides, facing forward, silent until given further instruction. The seemingly tightly coupled structure proved to be inefficient as students and teachers constantly bucked the system in search of breathing room. The systems and procedures seemingly did not care about the Black children and families they served. They were suffocating and meant to socialize students to think and act a certain way. In the beginning, we were teaching “structure,” but it evolved to resemble post-colonialism. Vasquez Heilig, Khalifa, and Tillman (2013) stated that “education was and still is used as a hegemonic form to monitor, sanction, and control civilized people.” Thus, postcolonial theory (Fanon, 1952, 1961; Memmi, 1965; Said, 1978) offers a critical framework through which urban educational policies and practices can be understood and critiqued (DeLeon, 2012; Shahjahan, 2011). They continue their analysis by stating that “at base, post-colonial theorists interrogate the relationship between the legitimized, conquering power and the vanquished subaltern, and ask questions about who defines subjectivities, such as knowledge, resistance, space, voice, or even thought.” Fanon (1961 ) argued, “Colonialism wants everything to come from it.” Essentially, colonizers delegitimize the knowledge, experience, and cultures of the colonized, and establish policy and practice that will always confirm the colonial status quo. In other words, it is important to note that postcolonial studies, though often thought of as relegated to a particular period, are actually also a reference to thoughts, practices, policies, and laws that impact marginalized Black bodies enrolled in charters during the current educational policy era.”

Jeff Bryant here
describes the rise of an anti-democratic worldview
threatens not only public education but democracy itself.


Under the fraudulent guise of “education reform,” extremists seek to
destroy public education and turn it over to private entrepreneurs.
They trust the marketplace, not the public. They are true believers
in the doctrines of free-market economist Milton Friedman, not
those of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Horace Mann.


He quotes an Ohio legislator who says that public schools–which are a
cornerstone of our democracy–are “socialist.” If so, then we have
been a “socialist” nation for over 150 years. At least 90% of our
population was educated in those “socialist” schools and created
the greatest, most powerful nation in the world.


Then he quotes the founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings, who longs to see an end to
locally elected school boards, to be replaced by privately managed
charters. Democracy, Hastings seems to think, is too inefficient,
too messy. Are there enough billionaires like Hastings to run the
nation’s schools? Why do these people have such contempt for
democracy? Why do they like to replace democratic control with
mayoral control, governor control, anything but elected school
boards? Several districts in New Jersey have been under state
control for 20 years, with no results. Mayoral control has done
nothing for Cleveland or Chicago other than to increase
undemocratic decision making.


Bryant concludes: “The idea of democratic governance of schools as a principal means for ensuring
the quality of schools has never worked perfectly for sure. “It’s
true that too few people bother to vote in school board elections.
The electoral system is often prone to manipulation from powerful
individuals and self-interested groups. Elected boards are often
overly contentious to the point of dysfunction. And the country’s
history is replete with examples of local boards that perpetuated
widespread mistreatment of minorities to the point where outside
intervention was necessary. “But where else has democratic
governance achieved perfection? There are democratic solutions to
these problems: Do more to increase voter education and turnout,
limit the influence of money and factional interests, and ensure
checks and balances from outside authorities that are also
democratically elected. “If we want to give ordinary people more of
a voice in determining the education destinies of their children
and their communities, the solution is more democracy, not

Jarvis DeBerry, a columnist for the New Orleans Time-Picayune, has written a letter to the students at the John McDonogh School, a charter school that is closing after Steve Barr took it over and pledged to turn it around.

Barr’s company is called “The Future Is Now.” He invited Oprah to send in a television crew to document his success in taking over what he called New Orleans’ “most dangerous school.”

But he is gone, Oprah lost interest, and the school is closing.

Here is DeBerry’s letter.

Dear students of John McDonogh High School:  It is with heavy hearts that we, the residents of New Orleans, write you this letter informing you that we find it impossible to educate you. We’re giving up on our stated goal of preparing you for a future that requires your literacy, your facility with numbers and critical thinking skills. You have our regrets.

We don’t know if your English teachers have taught you about irony – a situation that’s considered strange or funny because it’s the opposite of what’s expected – but it certainly is ironic that the organization that has been running your school is called “Future Is Now.” You kids are so far behind.

When we say you’re behind, of course we mean that you’re behind your peers across the country. That goes without saying. But you Trojans are even behind your peers in New Orleans. In fact, as you probably already know, when you don’t include alternative schools, John McDonogh High School, its proud history notwithstanding, has the lowest school performance score in the state.

And so, you poor students, we’re just going to quit while we’re behind. We’re going to shut down your school in June and try to get a head start on helping the kids behind you.

What’s that? Sure, we’ll send you to another campus. There are other schools in the city you can attend. But you should know that we aren’t really convinced that it’s the campus that’s the problem. John Mac isn’t the first bad school you’ve been to, now is it? So maybe the problem is you. That’s why so many of us are washing our hands of you. We don’t think there’s any hope for y’all to actually become scholars or even hardworking, engaged and informed members of your community. In fact, most of us have got our bets on your seeing the inside of a prison. If you really are “one of the most dangerous schools in America,” as that reality show “Blackboard Wars” put it, why wouldn’t we think y’all were just biding your time before you’re shipped to the penitentiary?

So why should we persist in this charade? Why should we keep pretending that anything is going to get better? Why not just leave you to our own devices so we can better focus on your little brothers and sisters behind you?

Steve Barr, the CEO of Future Is Now, said his approach worked in Los Angeles where so many children had that first-generation-American eagerness and ambition. But he diagnosed y’all as having been on the tail end of “seven generations of crap.” We think, by that, he means that the six generations ahead of you weren’t especially well educated either, that even your grandparents’ grandparents were stepped on, disrespected and denied basic services in ways they shouldn’t have been. So maybe you aren’t expecting to be treated all that different. Or maybe you have no sense of history at all and are just looking at the way you’ve always been treated and figure that nobody really cares whether you succeed or not.

James Baldwin – have you read him in English class? – said in an essay about his old Harlem neighborhood that “children do not like ghettos. It takes them nearly no time to discover exactly why they’re there.” Haven’t y’all discovered why y’all are at John McDonogh, just about the worst school in a state that trails most of the country education-wise? And if you have discovered it, why do you think things would be better for you at another New Orleans campus? Wherever you enroll, those of us with options are going to make sure our children go somewhere else. Shoot, we’re not going to have our children corrupted by children like you.

It’s in dispute whether your school building is as bad as some say it is. Patrick Dobard, the leader of the Recovery School District, says opponents of the school’s management are wrong when they say the building is infested with rats, termites and mold. Still, there’s no argument that the building needs to be made better. So, after y’all are out of the building, local officials plan to reshape it into something nice and lovely. We’re talking a new cafeteria, a new science lab and a performance space. It’s also supposed to have the tip-top in energy efficiency.

That new John McDonogh is going to be some special! Students are going to love it. No, not you current students. You’re a lost cause. You can’t be helped. But trust us when we say we’re going to go all out for the students coming behind you.

Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at Follow him

It seems like only yesterday that the Oprah television network featured an exciting new charter school in New Orleans that promised to turn around the John McDonogh school. The new charter group was led by Steve Barr and his Future Is Now organization.

“One year after the Oprah television network featured New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School in “Blackboard Wars,” hoping to depict a successful charter school turnaround, the Recovery School District is dissolving the school. All staff members will lose their jobs.

“A fresh start. This school needs a fresh start,” Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard said of the school run by Future Is Now.

“Struggling charter schools have three years to prove themselves, and they can lose their authorization to operate after the fourth. However, the school known as John Mac is closing after only two years. The high school had the lowest performance score in the state in 2013, after alternative schools.

“The school system is speeding up a long-demanded building renovation to this summer, instead of waiting until 2016. But instead of moving to interim space, as typically happens, all the students must find new schools.

“Future Is Now charter chief Steve Barr said it was entirely a facilities decision, not made in response to low enrollment and poor test scores: “I think it’s a little bizarre to think this is some elaborate scheme to get us out of here. We’ve only in the middle of our second year.”

“Barr said they considered multiple temporary homes for the school but could not find a good alternative. While a number of schools are in portables pending the end of a $1.8 billion facilities master plan, Barr said they were mostly startup charters and portables weren’t appropriate for a turnaround school like John McDonogh.

“Future Is Now has the option of voluntarily giving up the charter, which Barr said would require a board vote. But it doesn’t matter, because when the building reopens after two years, the charter will have expired. Dobard said the school would not be eligible for renewal or extension.

“Dobard acknowledged that John McDonogh’s poor academic performance was an issue. He wouldn’t say the state had erred in granting the charter in the first place. “Hindsight is always 20/20, but we went into it with full confidence,” he said. “Obviously we wished the school would have been performing better at this stage.”

“For Future Is Now, it’s an abrupt end to a would-be feel-good tale.”

Oprah was gung-ho at the eg inning of the story. Why did she disappear at the end?


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