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In this post, EduShyster interviews Andre Perry. In 2013, he became Founding Dean of Urban Education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Before that, he was a leader in the charter school movement in Néw Orleans. As I read this interview, I heard echoes of my own thinking from about a decade ago. I didn’t care who was sponsoring the schools so long as they were good schools. By 2009, I realized that it did matter, because many charters were skimming the best students and needed resources from the poorest districts, this left the public schools, which enroll most children, even worse off than they were before. We will see how Dr. Perry’s rethinking evolves.
Here are Jennifer Berkshire’s first questions:
“EduShyster: You were involved in the education reform experiment in New Orleans from its inception. But you’ve become increasingly critical of the direction reform has taken. Why?
“Andre Perry: The goal of education has to be build the capacity of local residents. It has to be—and I’m talking about from top to bottom. Our goal is not to improve a school in spite of the community. Our goal is to improve a community using schools. And it’s not just to give students the skills to get a job—that’s one small part. It’s to make sure they have sustainable communities to live in. You’re not going to fire your way to improving community. You have to do the hard work of building capacity and training people and becoming a member of the community. That’s how you do it. That wasn’t happening and it’s not happening. In addition, and this is where I am clearly biased, New Orleans is 60% Black. If we don’t have Black leaders in the mix, we’re just reinforcing a power structure that helped cause the situation we were in.
“EduShyster: Was there anything specific that caused you to start to question what was happening in New Orleans?
“Perry: I became very critical because I saw a script that folks had to follow. There was a clear bias against New Orleanians, some of which was predicated on race, some on folks’ affiliation with the prior system. But there was a clear bias. Around 2008 and 2009, I sat on some of the charter authorizing committees. I would see Black and local charter applications just passed on, and I would see white applications that had clearly been written by someone else, and yet the odds were stacked for their acceptance. I remember in the beginning, it was really about quality and making sure we found new voices. Then it became about *scaling up.* There was a big transition, and I said *whoa—that is not the move.* The goal is to bring in different voices and new, innovative perspectives. It’s not to give the same people more schools. I didn’t get into reform for that. I got in it to build the capacity of local residents.
“EduShyster: People should also know that you’re very critical of the critics of education reform in New Orleans. I’ve heard you use words like *crass,* *silly,* and *camp-ish* to describe some of the anti-reform arguments. And can we acknowledge that merely typing those words makes my fingers hurt?
“Perry: I’m very critical of the anti-reform narrative because it lacks any form of nuance. These labels—sometimes I don’t even want to say them out loud—and if I hear the word neo-liberal again… There are no complicated scenarios posed; it’s completely ideological. Let’s be real. We have to be very pragmatic about change. There’s no one way to bring about change. It typically comes from young people who aren’t wedded to any particular brand, and it will come from a commitment to making sure that the lives and outcomes of those communities are improved by any means. That’s what’s frustrating to me on the anti-reform side. Black people have never had the luxury to do things one way. We need good schools across the board—public, charter, private—and delivery systems that really speak to our existence. This idea that we can’t have multiple players in the same space is ridiculous. But when you’re in these settings where the rhetoric is so intense, you completely miss that there is good work happening in the charter space, or good *reformed* work happening in the traditional space. And what you also don’t see is how privilege and class are pervasive in all of these systems.”
I know I am missing something. Nuance is important but too much nuance, and you get rolled by those who know exactly what they want and go for it.