A Book Review: Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance By Kristen L. Buras Page: 2
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Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the market meets grassroots
In Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the market meets grassroots resistance,
Kristen Buras reveals details of what is the remarkable story of the privatization of public
schools in New Orleans post hurricane Katrina. A New Orleans native, Buras brings to this study
the influential context of the historical past of New Orleans public schools and educational
policy. In tangible ways, this text can be taken as an ethnography of the public policy conflicts
between White and non-White communities in the context of extant hegemonic social structures
that prohibit educational access. This historical setting takes on deeper significance as we are
reminded immediately that New Orleans is the home of Homer Plessy, whose resistance to
segregation in that city led to the infamous 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.
Buras' advocacy and activism experience with the Urban South Grassroots Research Collective
for Public Education (USGRC) will no doubt be used to attack the validity of this work. Yet
Buras clearly addresses her positionality and acknowledges that, "The critique presented in this
book of market-based school reform does not imply the preexisting system in New Orleans was
ideal" (p. 3). The included appendix on methodology further addresses and clarifies Buras'
Buras' argues that, "black education writ large enough cannot be understood adequately without
examining the reconstruction of public education in the South" (p. 9). Moving towards that
understanding Buras expands her previously published research. Chapters two and six examine
the actions of the White power elite, while chapters three and four examine community efforts to
secure equity in educational opportunities. Rather than examine this book in a linear chapter by
chapter fashion it may be helpful to think in conceptual terms. Using critical race theory, Buras
proposes three conceptual facets to the political ecology of market based privatization efforts:
whiteness as property, accumulation by dispossession, and urban space economy. Arguing that
New Orleans may be the American city that historically demonstrates the harshest forms of
White supremacy, Buras leads us to understand how these factors intertwine to limit educational
opportunities for communities of color.
Charter school based educational reform in New Orleans is a collaboration which can
appropriately be examined as an ecological system (p. 40). The Recovery School District (RSD)
effectively represents the interests of the White political establishment and educational
entrepreneurs/reformers. The RSD acted with astonishing speed in taking over the public-school
system post Katrina. Tacit support of the takeover came from the Louisiana Board of Elementary
and Secondary Education (BESE), Governor Blanco, Senator Landrieu (Democrat) and the State
Legislature, with the assistance of national groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Teach for
America (TFA), and the Cowen Institute. These actions, seen as a response to the catastrophe,
incited little if any resistance to the actions of the RSD. Meanwhile, accumulation by
dispossession is evidenced by the RSD's elimination of a school district by taking control of the
buildings. This allowed the en masse firing of veteran teachers, predominately people of color
who had evacuated, as their jobs no longer existed. Citing a "teacher shortage" BESE then
contracted with Teach for America (TFA) allowing the RSD to replace fired teachers with
inexperienced, non-certified, non-union, predominately White teachers. TFA recruitment efforts
focused on teaching in communities of color as an entrepreneurial opportunity. This
entrepreneurial spirit spearheaded by the RSD functions to recruit White people to come to New
Orleans. Other examples of accumulation by dispossession through RSD actions can be viewed
as malicious. A dramatic example is the diversion of funds, obtained from the state of Louisiana
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Viamontes, Ciro Jesus & Ezzani, Miriam. A Book Review: Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance By Kristen L. Buras, article, 2017; New York, New York. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1042609/m1/2/?q=%22Teacher%20Education%20and%20Administration%22: accessed April 24, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Education.