Education Reform and Democracy in New OrleansJ. Celeste Lay
Two months after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana took control of nearly all the public schools in New Orleans. Today, all of the city’s public schools are charter schools. Although many analyses mark the beginning of education reform in New Orleans with Katrina, in Public Schools, Private Governance, J. Celeste Lay argues that the storm merely accelerated the timeline for reforms that had inched along incrementally over the previous decade. Both before and after Katrina, white reformers purposely excluded Black educators, community members, and parents.
Public Schools, Private Governance traces the slow, deliberate dismantling of New Orleans’ public schools, and the processes that have maintained the reforms made in Katrina’s immediate aftermath. Lay shows how Black parents and residents were left without a voice and the mostly white officials charged with school governance had little accountability. She cogently explains how political minorities disrupted systems to create change and keep reforms in place, and the predictable political effects—exclusion, frustration, and resignation—on the part of those most directly affected.
“Public Schools, Private Governance is a vital study of education and inequality in America. It is also a very good read. Celeste Lay explores the remarkable overhaul of public education in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, using this controversial episode to generate political insights that travel far beyond the case itself. The book offers a highly original, empirically
grounded account of profound changes in policy and governance, clarifying why they happened and how, going forward, they transformed local politics. Lay has produced one of the best studies I have read in the past decade on the local interplay of policy and politics. The analysis of how race and class inequalities establish conditions for policy change and shape responses to policy change is outstanding.”
—Joe Soss, Cowles Professor for the Study of Public Service at the University of Minnesota
“In Public Schools, Private Governance, Lay provides a new and compelling explanation of the dramatic changes to the school system in post-Katrina New Orleans, arguing that the architecture for these reforms was in place long before Katrina and intentionally excluded— and continues to exclude—Black voices in decision making. Drawing on a rich set of data, including surveys, documents, and focus groups, Lay presents a necessary counternarrative
to dominant views about the ‘success’ of these education reforms, which have increased students’ performance on test scores, but, as she argues, threaten the democratic control of public schools. This book will be of great interest to political scientists and education scholars interested in the politics of race, privatization, and education in the United States.”
—Huriya Jabbar, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin
“Lay’s book is a powerful indictment of the elite forces that made the nation’s first all-charter school district possible in New Orleans. She makes clear that this was not a product of Hurricane Katrina alone but rather an exclusive white minority uninterested in developing educational policies with the Black communities they most impact. Public Schools, Private Governance is an important read for those interested in race, policy feedback, and education.”
—Sally A. Nuamah, Assistant Professor of Urban Politics at Northwestern University
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