August 29th marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina ripping into Louisiana, leaving New Orleans under water, and turning the Mississippi coast into rubble. None of us who sat glued to our TV will ever forget the images we saw of people clinging to rooftops, wading chest high water and abandoning their cars to try to walk to safety.
I remember picking my way along the Mississippi coast several months later. All that was left of a motel was a spiral metal staircase standing guard over a sandy parking lot. Across the street a familiar yellow sign swayed in the breeze, but the brick building that served up “smothered, covered and chunked” was no where to be found. New Orleans was different. A ghost town. Rows of apartments stretched out of sight with no cars anywhere to be seen.
In the true spirit of “never let a crisis go to waste,” the ensuing months afforded “education reformers” a chance to load their medicine wagons with silver bullets and magic potions and descend upon this unique city. While its school system had long had its woes, New Orleans suddenly found itself the petri dish for education experimentation–especially charter schools.
And given that a decade has now gone by since Katrina thundered ashore, no doubt there will be countless reports extolling the virtues of the public school makeover in the days ahead. Given the recent move by the Alabama legislature to allow charters and the nearness of the Crescent City one has to expect we will hear a great deal about their schools. And while there will surely be glowing reports–there will not be a shortage of those who claim proponents are way too loose with the truth, facts and figures.
Mercedes Schnieder is a teacher in New Orleans, as well as a blogger, author and relentless researcher. In this post, she links to a series of articles about New Orleans where most public schools are now charters. It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.