Fajardo is telling me a familiar story, one that I’ve come to think of as the conversion narrative—how she went from being a reform enthusiast to one of the new system’s loudest, and most persistent critics. “I thought charters were the best. College readiness, world-class education—I bought it all. I thought ‘charters must be better than what we have because everyone coming down here is so much smarter than we are.’”Break up the teachers union. Break up the local community. Isolate each family so that they have to face the "CEO" individually. Obviously the next step is profit.
But Fajardo, who spent years working as an advocate for children and parents in the pre-Katrina schools, soon found herself playing the same role in the new system. First informally, then as an organizer for VAYLA, a group of students and young leaders from both the Vietnamese and Latino communities in New Orleans East, Fajardo began to do battle on behalf of students and parents with limited English.
“I heard all the stories, about discrimination, about parents who had no way to communicate with anyone at their kids’ schools, about students being pushed out by schools,” says Fajardo. Her work with parents helped inform the federal complaint filed by VAYLA and other advocacy groups in 2013, alleging that New Orleans’ schools were violating the civil rights of non-English speaking students.
Fajardo is convinced that parents actually have less power in New Orleans today than they did under the previous school system. She argues that eliminating neighborhood schools has also eliminated the power of parents to come together as part of a community. “Parents are fighting individual battles with these schools and they’re all petrified of what will happen to their kids,” she says. Meanwhile, principals in the new autonomous landscape are more powerful than ever, functioning more like CEOs who report to hand-picked nonprofit boards. “That’s the power shift,” says Fajardo.
Before I go, I ask Fajardo about the claim made by so many education reform advocates, that by giving parents the power to leave schools they’re unhappy with, they have the ultimate control over their children’s education. But she doesn’t see it that way at all. “Unless everybody pulls their kids out, how do you ever change a school?”
Ms. Berkshire is back in New Orleans this week to participate in a conference on the consequences of the ed reform movement. The tweets coming from there today are fascinating.
I would be remiss, also, if I did not mention that Rising Tide 10 (or RT X, if you like) will feature a panel discussion on this very topic led by last year's keynote speaker Dr. Andre Perry. More details here.