Learning From—and After—Katrina

A version of this post first appeared on Scholastic's On Our Minds blog.

Scholastic News Kid Reporter Samuel Davis, 12, of Shreveport, La., is too young to remember Hurricane Katrina. Wanting to learn more about the storm and its aftermath, he recently sat down with Darlene Alexander and others who fled New Orleans a decade ago.

“I grabbed a bag of pictures and a couple of outfits,” Alexander told Samuel in an article for our student news site. The rest, of course, is history.

Weeks before the storm, Alexander had started teaching at a KIPP charter school in New Orleans. “We were flying the plane as we were building it,” she told me about her experiences there.

Alexander now teaches at Samuel’s middle school in Shreveport. She is “extremely thankful for the support” that she and her two sons, Austin and Justin, have gotten in their adopted city. But in a recent phone conversation, Alexander acknowledged that she knows what it means, as Billie Holiday sang, “to miss New Orleans.”

Still, Alexander feels lucky to have gotten out of New Orleans. Failing schools and a rise in violent crime before the storm, she said, troubled her deeply. She wanted a safe environment for her sons to grow up in.

Ten years after Katrina, a Louisiana State University report finds that the city’s African American residents “are far more skeptical” than whites about improvements to the economy, schools, and overall quality of life; 65 percent of black respondents believe that “people like them have had no say in the rebuilding process.”

Efforts to remake the failing schools of New Orleans, which began before Katrina struck, eventually resulted in the creation of independent public charter schools across the city and state. Are the unprecedented changes a cause for hope or despair?

In this post, NPR’s lead education blogger Anya Kamenetz looks at the varied views. As Kamenetz observes, “the divisions between those who champion the new New Orleans and those who deplore it are as wide and murky as the Mississippi itself.”

If you’d like to learn more about how public education has been reshaped in New Orleans, here are some recommendations:

The Uncounted

In post-Katrina New Orleans, writes Owen Davis in the International Business Times, many special needs students have been left out of the equation, while the number of African American teachers has dropped from more than 70 percent to roughly half.

The Re-Education of New Orleans

A decade ago, the state of Louisiana took control of most of the city’s schools, many of which had been declining for years. A series of articles in Education Week looks at the “profound changes to public schooling that have never before been seen in a single American city."

How everyone is getting it wrong on New Orleans school reform

Douglas N. Harris, a professor at Tulane University, studied the developments in New Orleans schools for more than a year. “The lessons of school reform,” he writes in The Washington Post, “can’t be summed up in a headline.”

Makeover of New Orleans schools sows progress and recriminations

Reporter Andrew Vanacore of The New Orleans Advocate talks with principals, teachers, and students in the city’s charter schools, concluding that “not even the charter school movement’s biggest fans argue that better schools came without pitfalls or pain.”

Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children

In her 2014 book, Hope Against Hope, education reporter Sarah Carr writes about “the “radically altered public education system” that many families displaced by Hurricane Katrina found upon their return to New Orleans. The story is set against the complications that students faced outside the classroom, as families struggled to rebuild their homes and their lives.