NPR Whitewashes Charter Schools and Disaster Capitalism in New Orleans

It was bad enough when NPR whitewashed the “grit” narrative, but now NPR is whitewashing charter schools and disaster capitalism in New Orleans.

Framed as “remarkable changes,” erasing public schools and firing all public school faculty (a significant percentage of the black middle class in New Orleans) are whitewashed beneath a masking narrative embracing all things market forces as essentially good, even though the actions taken against pubic schools and teachers in the name of the mostly minority and disproportionately impoverished families and children of New Orleans have not accomplished what advocates claim.

In the NPR piece, “no teaching experience” is passed over as if this couldn’t possibly be a problem; however, when public schools were dismantled and all the faculty fired, the second disaster swept over New Orleans in the form of “no excuses” charter schools (KIPP and their cousins) and a swarm of Teach For America recruits who were not native to New Orleans and have lived lives mostly unlike the children they teach.

As well, that black and poor children are “part of an experiment” remains unexamined in this piece. Instead, the entire New Orleans experiment is called “kind of a miracle.”

At 5 minutes in, NPR allows a critic to call claims of success “overblown,” and then 7 minutes in, one disgruntled parent announces that charter advocates “won’t be able to fool me this time.” But overall, this NPR whitewashing of the New Orleans education reform experiment fails as most education journalism does—absent as it is any real critical questions, absent as it is any effort to honor the weight of evidence in the pursuit of “balance.”

I find here the exact same pattern I confronted in my criticism of the NPR “grit” piece. While the 8-plus minutes do technically include “both sides,” the less credible position (pro- charter, pro-market forces) is clearly given the greater weight while the stronger position is posed as mere “criticism.”

Education reform in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina is a model of disaster capitalism and an ugly lesson in how we should not reform public education. The lessons ignored in the NPR piece include the following:

  • New Orleans education reform is yet another “miracle” narrative that is driven by political advocacy and then bolstered by a complicit media. Yet, claims of education miracles have all crumbled under scrutiny. The Texas Miracle, the Chicago Miracle, the Harlem Miracle, the Florida Miracle, and now the New Orleans Miracle—all are political lies and media trivializations of policies and practices that harm children, families, and society.
  • Charter school advocacy in New Orleans and across the U.S. remains unwarranted, as Gerald N. Tirozzi explains:

Consider the reality that, as a nation, we continue to follow and accept the declarations of education reformers in their relentless promotion and implementation of “cures” that generally have no documented research base for school improvement. Conversely, these same strategists apparently have little time to consider existing research and evaluation findings, which rebut the very reform strategies and initiatives they are espousing.

A prime example of such “evidence avoidance” is apparent in the accelerating growth of the high-profile charter school movement. It is truly difficult to comprehend the escalating commitment to, and major infusion of federal and state funds for, this movement—especially in the absence of supportive data on its effectiveness in the education of young people.

  •  Dismantling a foundational public institution and stripping professionals of their careers send important—but ignored—messages about commitments to the ruling elite at the expense of workers, families, and children. Education reform within the context of disaster capitalism parallels the exact reduced circumstances used to manipulate marginalized people, exposed by Michelle Alexander’s examination of mass incarceration, as I have presented before:

For example, Carr reports that African American parents not only choose “no excuses” charter schools in New Orleans, but also actively cheer and encourage the authoritarian policies voiced by the schools’ administrators. But Alexander states, “Given the dilemma facing poor black communities, it is inaccurate to say that black people ‘support’ mass incarceration or ‘get-tough’ policies” because “if the only choice that is offered blacks is rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be ‘more prisons'” (p. 210).

New Orleans serves as a stark example of how this dynamic works in education reform: Given the choice between segregated, underfunded and deteriorating public schools and “no excuses” charters – and not the choice of the school environments and offerings found in many elite private schools – the predictable answer is “no excuses” charters.

The breezy “fair and balanced” mainstream media tone remains a mask, a whitewashing of narratives and policies that serve those with wealth and privilege on the backs of workers and marginalized populations reduced to competing among themselves (within their marginalized group and against other marginalized groups) for a thin slice of pie controlled by the 1%.

While Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” addresses a different context specifically, key elements here inform how both the uncritical NPR piece and the actual circumstances of education reform in New Orleans fail children, families, and democracy:

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians….It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable….

Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist….

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support….

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educated men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns.

As long as our mainstream media refuse to examine the evidence and take sides with that evidence, as long as that media remain one of the “master’s tools,” as long as the media work “to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns,” we are lost as a democracy, as a community of ethical people in the service of each other.

Charter schools replacing public schools, TFA supplanting career educators—these are not “miracles,” these are “the master’s concerns” imposed on marginalized people in the name of those people.

Why do we tolerate and champion the mass firing of black professional?

Why do we tolerate and champion experimenting with the lives and education of “other people’s children,” who are mostly black, brown, and poor?

Why do we tolerate and champion demanding that “other people’s children” chant and stay always inside the lines?

And then, why do mainstream journalists refuse to ask these questions? In whose service is the press?

Why do these questions ring hollow in the only echo chamber we are allowed, the one built by disaster capitalism?

For context please see:

Recommended: Hope Against Hope, Sarah Carr

Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam

Andre Perry

Mercedes Schneider

Education myth busters: Do criticisms of U.S. schools rely on bad information and distortions?, Peter Smagorinsky

12 comments

  1. Parent Imperfect

    I had the same impression when I heard the NPR piece. They did, of course, give lip service to the critique of the charter Shangri-la, but not in a way that helps understand what is really going on there. Very disappointing…

  2. Dale

    Perhaps the fact that NPR has taken 3 million in funding from Walton and Gates to “improve education reporting” might play a bit of a role here?

  3. ejwinner

    I have always had a problem pointing out to card-carrying ‘liberal Democrats’ that NPR is a corporation driven ‘news’ service. They were indoctrinated during the 1970s, that Public Radio was ‘objective,’ and seem inoculated against the notion that economics could have determined it otherwise over the years.
    On political issues, NPR sounds to me like just more propaganda. After all, who are their major supporters? – not you and me, but various corporations (whose participation is actually boasted, as means of attracting more corporation ‘donations’).
    Please keep up the good work of this blog. The truth must be spoken to power, even if unheard.

  4. Pingback: Links this week, because, why not? (3) | no sign of it
  5. Lloyd Lofthouse

    Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse and commented:
    This NPR whitewashing of the New Orleans education reform experiment fails as most education journalism does—absent as it is any real critical questions, absent as it is any effort to honor the weight of evidence in the pursuit of “balance.”

  6. alexanderrusso (@alexanderrusso)

    FWIW, the pro-charter reform folks from NOLA like Peter Cook think that the NPR series is slanted *against* charters, etc. — and in fact there was an error in C. Sanchez’s original story about the charters having performed poorly on state report cards.

  7. justateacher

    You hear sponsorship blurbs from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation repeatedly.

    As Ken P. wrote about democracy, NPR’s “public” is an illusion. Their ed coverage is horrendous. I don’t like to insult people, but the stakes are enormously high here, and Claudio Sanchez (purportedly a former teacher) is useless. (NPR got him out of the classroom, though, I guess.) He should be ashamed to call himself a journalist, and NPR should be ashamed to call their corporate education hawking journalism.

    Finally, now that it is affecting families and teachers, they are waking up to a corporate takeover that began long ago, and to shoddy reporting. It’s about time – for action.

  8. Gary Gruber

    So, was this almost a year ago? And what, if anything, has changed to make it better or worse in a year? Probably not much. Systemic reform often comes at a high price BUT should not sacrifice good people, kids and adults, in order to accomplish significant, reasonable and lasting changes.

  9. Pingback: What, Exactly, Are We Celebrating About Charter Schools? | reclaim our little rock public schools

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