Activism, Power, and Backlash: The United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) from 1972 - Today
Jesse Chanin

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Tulane University

Primary Discipline

My dissertation analyzes the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) from 1972 until today, focusing specifically on the period following Hurricane Katrina when the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) dismissed over 7,500 UTNO members, including 4,300 teachers. After the storm, the state-run Recovery School District, as well as the OPSB, converted all the city's public schools into privately-run public charter schools. I use New Orleans' school privatizations and teacher dismissals as a case study to understand nationwide processes of teacher de-unionization and school reform, especially in urban areas. By focusing on local dynamics in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans, I examine the impacts of accelerated neoliberal education policies on the ground, attending to teachers' individual experiences as well as the larger community-wide effects of privatization. I use a mixed-methods research design which includes archival work, semi-structured interviews, and survey data to develop a historical narrative that captures UTNO's power and political importance as well as the perspectives of individual teachers and union members. Unlike many teachers' unions, UTNO's membership was majority-black, matching the student population in Orleans Parish. I examine when racial solidarity led UTNO to support policies that benefited the black poor and when the union advocated narrowly for their own interests, attending to ways in which UTNO both resisted and acquiesced to neoliberal reforms prior to the storm. By centering teachers, this study situates education policy in the context of larger questions of power and justice, examining the ways educational decisions impact labor, democratic participation, and activism.
About Jesse Chanin
Jesse Chanin is in her fourth year of doctoral work in the interdisciplinary City, Culture, and Community Ph.D. program at Tulane University. Her dissertation focuses on the connection between middle-class labor unions and social justice struggles, particularly among African-Americans in the South, using the United Teachers of New Orleans as a case study. She is also examining how the conversion of New Orleans into an all-charter district post-Hurricane Katrina affected teachers' lives and the lessons this charterization process offers for urban districts nationwide. Jesse received a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology from Barnard College where she earned departmental honors for her thesis ``Memories of Protest: Remembering and Misremembering the Columbia Strike of 1968.`` She went on to earn her Master's in Teaching from Fordham University and worked for five years in the New York City public school system as a classroom teacher. In addition to her dissertation work, Jesse coordinates the annual Nola to Angola solidarity bike ride, which funds free transportation for families to visit their incarcerated loved ones, and works with Ubuntu Village, a local non-profit that organizes parents and families of incarcerated youth. She founded and facilitates Ubuntu's participatory action research project.

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