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Dr. Howard Fuller speaks on the New Orleans success story

Campbell Brown, Editor-in-Chief of The Seventy Four, recently interviewed Dr. Howard Fuller on the state of the education reform movement in New Orleans and nationally. In this conversation Dr. Fuller— a civil rights activist and champion for the people of New Orleans, spoke candidly about education reform in New Orleans and the need to empower the communities most impacted by reform efforts over the past 10 years.

The titillating yet unnerving conversation surrounding “New Orleans as the model for public education” conversation will take center stage this month which marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As we move to commemorate the lives lost and celebrate the resilience of a people and the rise of a new city, we also are faced with evaluating the imprint reform has made on the children and families it has promised to uplift. And while New Orleans is in fact a new city; one whose political landscape has undergone an extreme makeover, and where many of the active new voices among the city’s residents are white and non-native; the city’s identity as an incubation of innovation hinges on the results it yields for communities. This new identity has influence far beyond the Crescent City. Some are curious about what has happened in New Orleans while others are listening to find a soundbyte that helps support their agenda. Meanwhile, the communities most in need for education reform to work well just see themselves in the conversation.

With the mass overhaul of traditional education into a choice driven public charter school system, New Orleans has proven that another system can exist, and with substantial investment and accountability—can work! Much political capital has been spent on the public good of education here in New Orleans. Most white policy makers and reformers who were and maybe still, after 10 years, considered outsiders, made large impacting decisions in the name of improving the state of a failing public education system and on behalf of black children in New Orleans. The fast moving decisions created an environment, like Dr. Fuller suggests, that has left many community members with reason to believe, “reform was done to me and not with me.” This environment created an even more hostile culture around the discussion of race and education in board rooms and in townhall meetings across the city.

New Orleanians love their schools, school leaders, and the city’s children— no doubt.  Parents, who want the best for their children, must be engaged, empowered, and have their voices fully integrated into decision-making processes. There are parents who want to reflect on what has happened over the last ten years but who mostly just want to express their concerns and share their input and ideas for the Next 10. Dr. Fuller puts forward a vision for parent empowerment as the work of the Next 10.

I agree with Dr. Fuller that changing the “reform was done to me and not with me” narrative is answered with parent empowerment. Parent and community empowerment looks like supporting families in building an intersectional movement where their needs, intersected by race, class, gender, sexuality are fought for; where we train community leaders to represent parents in their school, community, and promote parent empowerment across the city. I want to imagine a world where parents are sought after to serve on charter school boards, and other decision-making bodies; whose perspectives are valued enough to produce policy recommendations for the RSD and OPSB, and have the collective power to hold them each accountable. These actions are what sustain education reform.

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