Pain, Anger, and Confusion at the NAACP Hearing on Quality Education in New Orleans
April 14, 2017
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The NAACP’s nation-touring ‘education task force‘ recently held their penultimate (6th of 7) hearing on quality education in New Orleans. The hearing, which took place on April 6th in the City Council Chambers, ended up serving as a venting session for a community that is clearly hurting and seemed ready to pounce on the historic civil rights organization’s education panel.

Alice Huffman on the Education Task Force

Following the NAACP’s highly divisive call for a moratorium on charter schools, the education task force was assembled to tour the country and “take a deep look at the issues facing public schools, as well as the pros and cons of charter schools”. Alice Huffman, chair of the task force, noted that following the final stop in New York, the national body would be reviewing all the information gathered and putting forth a document they hope will guide policy around charter schools.

Like previous stops in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Detroit, the city of New Orleans would provide a unique landscape for the education panel to survey, provided they were willing to analyze the history, data and facts objectively. No doubt NOLA was picked because of its one-of-a-kind system in which the entire district is nearly all charter.

The Crescent City hearing followed a similar arc as the others, with a majority of the time spent alternating between testimony of “experts” making their case for and against the NAACP’s moratorium. The “for” speakers (meaning anti-charter) included state rep Joseph Bouie, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigly, Attorney Willie Zanders, Walter Umrani of the ‘New Orleans Peacekeepers, and Adrienne Dixon who was listed as speaking for the American Federation of Teachers, but clarified that was a mistake, as she was speaking on her own behalf (oops!).

Those against the motion included charter schools leaders Niloy Gangopadhyay of Success Preparatory Academy, Jamar McKneely of Inspire Schools, and Kate Mehok of Crescent City Schools. Orleans Parish School Board member John Brown was listed as a speaker, but didn’t end up giving testimony.

The presentation portion of the hearing would go more or less the same as at all the other stops, with the “for” speakers warning of the dangers of privatization, decrying what they see as the nefarious practices of charters, and answering the same questions about “creaming”, discipline, and segregation that the task members have asked at each stop.

Like in the other cities, local charter school leaders highlighted their track records of success, and asked the board to not throw the baby out with the bath water, seeing the moratorium as generalizing, reactionary and unnecessary when some charters are finding such a high level of success with marginalized students.

But, the most important and emotional point of the forum would come when a group of students took over the floor, and in turn the meeting. The young speakers spoke passionately about the lack of resources, support, and in some cases, teachers at their school. They highlighted shoddy school conditions and the self-doubt they feel from their educators’ lack of belief in their abilities. They spoke out against arbitrary cutoffs for measuring their success and decried counselors and leaders who aren’t putting them in situations to succeed.

This stakeholder takeover of the forum, something that has been missing from some of the other stops, showcased the pain and frustration of the community. It also caused confusion, as it seemed many community members had come to air grievances with the local chapter of the NAACP, rather than the national body the task force represented.

Things got testy when parents and students called out their local chapter for not responding to calls for help and not being in their schools to see what’s really going on. The task force, seemingly unhappy to be called out, wanted the audience to know that most of the organization is made up of volunteers and that they couldn’t possibly get back to everyone.

Questioned on how she could support charter schools, by the students and heavily anti-charter audience, task force head Alice Huffman was irate. “I wrote the resolution calling for this moratorium”. Lost in the justifiable anger of the students and parents, were a few things. The taskforce was in fact calling out charter schools, and has lost most of its pretense of holding unbiased, objective hearings (“I would close them all if I could” -Alice Huffman) and the horror story shared by the students was that of a TRADITIONAL district school, one of the only five remaining in NOLA. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the task force left understanding the distinction.

Watch a portion of the public comment period at the hearing below, or follow us @EdCitizen (and the hashtag #NAACPHearing) on Twitter for more coverage of the quality education hearing.

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