by Claire Miller
Kristen Buras, who was born and raised in New Orleans, has been researching urban educational issues in her hometown for a number of years.
Her accounts of the city’s educational system and how it has changed over the years – particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – shed light on the two local school systems’ experimental reforms and how those changes affected residents in New Orleans.
“The argument that I make is that educational reforms in New Orleans aren’t designed to respond to oppressed communities or enhance public school performance, even if they’re couched in such language,” said Buras, COE visiting assistant professor of urban educational policy and reform, at the Feb. 22 Research Wednesdays.
Following Katrina, two school systems were established in New Orleans: The Orleans Parish School System, which presided over a small number of schools, and the Recovery School District (RSD), which gained control over the vast majority of schools in the city and turned them into charter schools.
In the last several years, Buras has conducted more than 50 interviews with local teachers and community members and closely followed the educational reforms both before and after the hurricane hit the city, noting events along the way that have displaced veteran teachers, closed schools in lower-class neighborhoods and opened more schools in upper-class neighborhoods without stakeholder input.
These changes, Buras argues, not only disenfranchise those affected by school closings and firings, but also remove those with cultural and historical knowledge from their communities.
“The struggle over schools isn’t only about where schools will be located and who controls buildings,” she said. “It’s also about who will be in the schools teaching and who will be in schools learning. It’s a cultural issue because veteran teachers are the holders of what Joyce King, Benjamin E .Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership, calls ‘heritage knowledge.’ They know the history and the culture of the community and they are the conveyors of this knowledge to students.”
Buras will continue her research on educational reform in New Orleans this year, as she plans to finish her next book on the ongoing struggles and pushback against reform in local schools by December 2012.
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information on Buras and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/coe_events.htm.