Thursday, June 23, 2016

Post-Katrina, New Orleans School “Reform” in the Context of a History of White Supremacy | janresseger

Post-Katrina, New Orleans School “Reform” in the Context of a History of White Supremacy | janresseger:

Post-Katrina, New Orleans School “Reform” in the Context of a History of White Supremacy

In “Frederick Douglass High School in New Orleans: School Closings, Race, and the Dangers of Policy without History,” Kristen Buras quotes New Orleans’ school superintendent Paul Vallas from 2008—back when technocracy and privatization became mixed with the  New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina.  Vallas was working with Paul Pastorek, Louisiana’s state school superintendent, to impose a new school master plan that set out to close public schools and turn many of the buildings over to charter school operators.  When someone at a community meeting, which had been convened to discuss the potential closure of Frederick Douglass High School,  brought up the racially embedded history of the school, Vallas responded: “Kids don’t know they’re going to school at a historical landmark. They just know they’re going to a building where the electricity doesn’t work, where the technology has been antiquated… I’m not going to get involved in the politics of where schools should go.  I’m going to get involved in the politics of what schools should be.”
The building of the all-black, Frederick Douglass High School had been allowed to deteriorate. Buras recounts the school’s history—the founding of Nicholls High School in 1913, its rebuilding by the Public Works Administration in 1938-1939, and its decline through the years after Brown v. Board of Education as as white students moved to private academies and the school became all-black.  The school, whose facilities were allowed to decline over time, was renamed after Frederick Douglass in the mid-1990s. Buras summarizes the assumptions under the state takeover in 2005 and the subsequent charterization of the New Orleans’ schools: “(C)harter school advocates in New Orleans criticize traditional public schools, especially black ones, for their alleged ‘failure’ without connecting racism and inequitable state education policies to the problems experienced by those schools.”
The 2005 hurricane did little damage to the Frederick Douglass building, and the school had re-opened as a comprehensive public high school post-Katrina, to serve the students in the Bywater section of the Upper Ninth Ward. Only after the school was turned over to the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Charter network in 2010, was private money found to upgrade the facility.  Buras quotes Vallas: “If a charter high school like KIPP goes in the Douglass building, the organization might bring outside money to help renovate the building.”  She adds: “Again, no consideration was given to the question of why state and local officials (had) failed to maintain the building or why master planners decided Douglass did not merit renovations.”
Buras profiles the remarkable and transformational writing program launched at Frederick Douglass High School in 1998, a decade prior to the school’s eventual closure: “Douglass was one of the lowest-ranked public high schools in New Orleans when SAC (Students at the Post-Katrina, New Orleans School “Reform” in the Context of a History of White Supremacy | janresseger:
 

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