Panelists, from L-R:
* Clifton Harris – concerned parent and blogger
* Dedra Johnson professor and blogger, author of Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow
* Leigh Dingerson – Education team leader of the Center for Community Change, editor and contributor to Keeping The Promise?: The Debate Over Charter Schools
* Christian Roselund – UTNO Communications, blogging at Dirty South Bureau
* Jeffrey Berman – teacher, Booker T. Washington High School and Schwarz Alternative School.
Links at the RT schedule page. Coozan Pat moderates.
Look, I don’t pretend to know anything about the intricacies of the educational system in New Orleans. Neither do I have children nor does the history and complexity of the system make sense to a five-year veteran of this city like me. What I know, is like Christian Roselund says, the system is thoroughly Balkanized and that I am on the side of concerned parents like Cliff Harris who live here and want to do good by their children in getting them quality educations without taking out a second mortgage and selling organs. New Orleans cannot afford more poorly-educated children, especially during its recovery. From Cliff’s blog:
… I am going to be representing those parents that are confused, concerned, angry, frustrated and hoping they made the right decision when it comes to where their child is going. I’m going to represent the hard working people who don’t want to have three jobs, or lie about their situation in order to be in a better situation. I’m going to represent three generations and the parent of a fourth generation of family to go to public schools in the city. That is important because there is no way anyone can reform the system and ignore the last 40 years.
I’ve always hated public education in the United States because the quality of education is generally low and the system attracts bad teachers. This is not an excuse to kill public education or let it fester. Dedra Johnson says, “The prevailing notion is that public schools are bad because they are public, that private education is good because it’s private and that the privatization of schools will get rid of a union that removes bad teachers.” Dedra continues that this is just an excuse to foist conservative, anti-union ideals on the nation.
Leigh brings the problem home for me: “What New Orleanians lost after Katrina in terms of schools is the right to make their own decisions. This is now a market system explicitly. It changes the paradigm … it is now less about community and more about a consumer-based, individual escape model. What’s been lost is the sense of public education as a community institution. It is now endemic across the country, these market-based reforms.”
Cliff counters that members of his community are suspicious of the continuation of the public schools. “We don’t want to have anything with the RSD schools. I went there and was an honors student and when I got to UNO, I hadn’t seen half the stuff up there … I don’t want to go to the same schools, I don’t want the same education … A large part of the population doesn’t care [whether kids are educated well or not].”
Jeff comes back that “only in New Orleans is public education a bad word” and he wants to get rid of that. (Not true, really, this a prevalent opinion all across America and the world.) Cliff comes back that there is distrust, anger, bitterness that has lasted for forty years and was exacerbated after the storm, and what he wants is better schooling for his daughter.
Christian slams RSD’s actions after the storm, including dismantling a program that promoted arts and music for “kids from the ghetto.” Tiny word to the wise: A neighborhood is not a “ghetto.”
Leigh and Dedra (and everyone else on the panel) argue that the school board should not be dismantled. Leigh mentions promoting an order that was rescinded by the governor – I’m unaware of what’s going on there, so help me out with explanations and links. Cliff brings up the example of Ellenese Brooks-Sims and the usefulness of a school board that steals and lives on patronage. He asks, “Why isn’t there a sub-board under the board that is different from the status quo, which is bad?” New Orleanians with kids agree more with Cliff than with the reinstatement of a school board; they are not in the minority.
Closing remarks – can’t quite concentrate because a mosquito just bit my left arm and it hurts like a MF. Patrick asks each panelist their key to changing the system. Jeff beseeches parents for total involvement – he sees a handful of parents at meetings, but wants to see more involvement from parents and the community. Cliff says, “The only thing that sets me apart from my friends who are incarcerated or deceased are my parents. Those parents are isolated – they won’t know that we had a conference here today, what’s going on in the Times Picayune. Go to these parents and ask what we can do to help … Until, as a city, we get to the point of thinking as a whole.”
Patrick has all parents of kids in the New Orleans school system stand up for a round of applause. Hats off to the teachers, too, I say. Q&A time, and I smell J’anita’s BBQ back there.
“More so than test scores, we need to socialize these kids. What’s the point of high test scores when they’re kicking in your door?”
Comment on woeful lack of adult education programs in New Orleans. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for a mother who reads at a fourth-grade education. What the bloggers can do is ask yourself about adult education in your neighborhood, write about it and talk to your politicians about it. Adult education gets forgotten, they keep running to me at the library and I’m strapped.”
I close out the Q&A session with a comment to Jeff Berman, “Public education is not just a bad word in NOLA. It is all over this nation and the world considers American education, in general, woefully inadequate. Education has to become a national priority, New Orleans is just the tip of the iceberg.” Jeff agrees, but states that he grew up in California and that the system here is especially disturbing. I get it, but this only adds fuel to my argument that education going to hell in New Orleans follows the downward spiral of American education in the past half century.