Squeezing Public Education: History and Ideology Gang Up on New Orleans

Source: Ralph Adamo, Dissent, Vol. 54 no. 3, Summer 2007

When hurricane Katrina (or, more accurately, the failure of the levees) washed away the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) at the end of August 2005, there was relief in many quarters. Within days of the storm, the acting public school superintendent, Ora Watson, declared that the “fiscal crisis of the New Orleans Public Schools” was now over. In hastily assembled meetings, members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), state and local politicians, and leaders of the state’s education bureaucracy convened to examine the situation. Representatives of the charter school movement, as well as providers of ancillary education services and materials, also convened. The chance to recreate public education in New Orleans from the ground up was an irresistible consequence of Katrina, as well as a dream come true. Before the first waves of refugees began returning to the drowned city, these newly energized social engineers had decided that no public school would reopen (though public schools did open relatively quickly in the neighboring parishes of Jefferson and St. Bernard); that all 7,500 employees of the system (the majority of them teachers) would be terminated; and that whatever schools did open would be charter schools, operating under the aegis of either BESE or NOPS, depending on the type or timing of the charter application.

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