Wednesday | September 9, 2015

Post-Katrina New Orleans is a story of a community dispossessed and dislocated. A decade after the breaching of the levees and the flooding of most of the city, after the loss of 1400 lives, and after a massive government failure to protect the lives, rights, and property of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants, New Orleans has become a tale of two cities – one city, populated by the well-to-do and white, has been supported and handsomely rebuilt; the other city, teeming with the overwhelmingly African-American poor and struggling middle class, has been neglected and languishes.

More than 3 in every 10 pre-Katrina African-American residents of New Orleans – 100,000 in all – have been lost to a diaspora, while those still living in New Orleans have little access to the fruits of the market-driven reforms of the past decade. The most contentious and hotly debated of these market reforms has been in education: the mass firing of its largely African-American teaching force, the close of district schools, and the transformation of New Orleans public schools into a system of charter schools. These changes have their defenders, such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan who famously claimed that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” but just as many forceful critics.


The first of the 2015-16 Conversations will examine the state of public education in New Orleans after a decade of these market driven reforms in two panels.

PANEL I, 12:00-2:00 pm

This first panel will discuss the larger context of the New Orleans education reforms in the political, socio-economic and racial changes that are transforming the city. Speaking on this panel will be:

  • Warren Simmons, Executive Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and a widely known and respected advocate of the importance of community voice in educational change;
  • Margaret Somers, Professor of Sociology and History at the University of Michigan and author of the award winning Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rights, an analysis of market driven reforms and the loss of citizenship rights in post-Katrina New Orleans;
  • Tracie Washington, President and CEO of the Louisiana Justice Institute and a distinguished lawyer who has been the leading litigator of civil rights cases in post-Katrina New Orleans.
  • Moderator: Ann Mitchell, Assistant to the President for Field Coordination, American Federation of Teachers

PANEL II, 2:15-4:00 pm

This second panel will examine in detail the state of education in New Orleans today. Speaking on this panel will be:

  • Barbara Ferguson, a former public school teacher, principal and first female superintendent of the New Orleans public schools who has also served as Assistant Superintendent of Research and Development in the Louisiana Department of Education and Deputy Secretary in the Louisiana Department of Labor;
  • Ramon Griffin, a former teacher and dean in a New Orleans charter school who is currently in a doctoral program in education at Michigan State University;
  • Karran Harper Royal, a leading New Orleans parent education advocate in New Orleans schools and  Assistant Director of Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center;
  • Doug Harris, Professor of Economics and Schleider Foundation Chair in Public Education at Tulane University and Director of the Educational Research Alliance for New Orleans.
  • Moderator: Larry Carter, President, United Teachers of New Orleans

Sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers, this conversation series is designed to engender lively and informative discussions on important educational issues. We deliberately invite speakers with diverse perspectives, including views other than those of the AFT and the Albert Shanker Institute. What is important is that these participants are committed to genuine engagement with each other.