The Re-Education of New Orleans

When the levees broke 10 years ago—drowning New Orleans in the disastrous wake of Hurricane Katrina—the ruptures set off a cascade of profound changes to public schooling that have never before been seen in a single American city.

As the floodwaters receded, leaving a scattered population preoccupied with survival, the state of Louisiana took over most of the city’s schools, many of which had been chronically failing for years.

All the teachers were fired. And a new class of educators moved in, kicking off the rapid and steady march to what exists now: A city with no neighborhood schools. A city of charters. A city of sometimes bewildering school choice.

Believers in the new way say it’s for the best: Graduation rates have ticked up. More kids are going to college. And achievement on state tests has grown. But, skeptics counter, there are casualties of such progress: School closures that leave families stranded. Languishing special education students. And a growing class of young black men who never finish school and don’t have jobs.

A decade after this radical reshaping of public education—billed by its proponents as the best hope for saving a singular American city from its near-death experience—there are fundamental questions still in search of answers.

Has the post-Katrina K-12 system delivered on its promise of high-quality schools for all of New Orleans’ children, the vast majority of them poor and black? And how do we judge that?

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