School reform success in New Orleans is just white privilege talking, say scholars

By all accounts, education reform in post-Katrina New Orleans has been a roaring success: Test scores and graduation rates are up and students once trapped in failing schools have their choice of charter schools throughout the city.

But scholars who instead relied on autobiographical narrative, personal observations of public meetings and protests, and digital media produced by community groups say that success is just white privilege talking. Adrienne D. Dixson of the University of Illinois and Kristen L. Buras and Elizabeth K. Jeffers of Georgia State University write in the journal Qualitative Inquiry that education reform in New Orleans has exacerbated economic and cultural inequities.

John McDonogh Senior High School is one of three public high schools presented as case studies in the paper to illustrate the methods of dispossession that white reformers have engaged in.

“Parents, teachers and, importantly, students have fought back against the reforms in New Orleans schools,” said Dixson, who is conducting a multiyear ethnography of African-Americans’ experiences with education reform in New Orleans. “This resistance is important to document and share with a wider audience. We also wanted to speak back to the success narrative portrayed in the media, and the promotion of educational improvement for racially marginalized youth under the guise of civil rights. Genuine educational justice in urban public schools will be born only from substantive, ongoing community-based decision-making, rather than the accumulative interests of white elites”…