Arne Duncan's Hurtful, Twisted Reasoning
Can a deadly, wretched hurricane which cost thousands of people their homes, lives, and livelihoods be considered "the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans schools?" NO. For the life of me, I cannot understand the penchant for using inflammatory words and thoughts that seems to have afflicted so called ed-reform leaders in the past week.
First, Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Schools paints laid-off teachers in in her district in broad strokes by saying they were a bunch of child molesters and abusers anyway.
Then, on Friday, Arne Duncan, excited to have found a new way to appeal to the conservative right stated that "Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to public schools in New Orleans."
Stupefying and irresponsible.
Below are some photos of her house in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
This is her kitchen, with an American flag tablecloth, representing her background as a social studies teacher. We used to have lots of conversations on education and politics over chickory coffee and beignets.
This used to be her office and where she kept her sorority memorabilia.
This was her storage room where she still kept her son's encyclopedia that he read from cover to cover as a child.
This was her guest room, where you can clearly see the watermark of where the flood waters reached after the levees broke.
This was her living room media console, and that's my daughter, her grand-daughter, in the photo frame.
Watching the teacher's union be destroyed in what many New Orleans educators perceived to be in the most underhanded way (voting to convert to charter schools was done while the citizens of New Orleans had been evacuated to cities throughout the country and were not there for the vote), was a double-blow to African American educators who have long had to deal with insidious policies meant to disempower them (Jim Crow, poll taxes, etc.)
The state of new charter schools is still in its infancy to be able to say they are worth the devastation of a hurricane. The New Orleans Times-Picayune did a thorough series on how these new schools are supposed to offer choice to families, but in fact, the families who had the most "choice" were those who had flexible work schedules, a car, and the know-how to find out about school openings and admissions policies. Living under these circumstances in New Orleans is the luxury of a very few.
Finally, from the teacher side, I have friends teaching in New Orleans charter schools, and it is mind-boggling what some of them have had to put up with as a unprotected, at-will employees. One of them had to supervise students during lunch and recess and did not have a conference period until after lunch. This meant no bathroom break or meal until 1:00 p.m. Can Arne hold it for that long? My friend had deep concerns about management who had business backgrounds and frequently made education decisions that made little sense to educators with any length of experience. The teacher turnover was sky-high.
When Naomi Klein wrote about the rise of "disaster capitalism" in her book the Shock Doctrine, New Orleans was a case study. People shouldn't have to lose their lives in order to improve education. Arne Duncan and the like want to lambast public schools without acknowledging that this country has forsaken them in terms of funding. Real reform would involve a significant, long-term investment in teachers, students, and schools, not a single "race" that will result in many losers (Arne's words, not mine.) So Arne, this teacher gives you a Fail for lack of clarity and cohesion in your statement, and lack of evidence to support your claims.