BOOK BIZ: A look at New Orleans charter schools

"Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America's Children" by Sarah Carr is published by Bloomsbury ($27 hardcover).

“Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children” by Sarah Carr is published by Bloomsbury ($27 hardcover).

Anyone interested in the effort to establish charter schools in Mississippi, may want to read this book written by veteran education reporter Sarah Carr about the charter schools in New Orleans. Rather than take a broad look at the whole system, she offers a look at three specific schools in the aftermath of the re-organization following Hurricane Katrina. Granted this large urban school system is different from the mostly rural school systems of Mississippi, but the book has lots of useful information.

During this year’s session of the Mississippi Legislature, House Bill 369, which allows the creation of charter schools, passed and was approved by the governor. I will admit to not knowing the provisions of this bill, but the overview seems to be that it would give failing school systems the opportunity to reorganize as a charter school.

It’s important to note that New Orleans had some charter schools years before Hurricane Katrina. Two of my grandchildren have attended one of those and still do. The big things I’ve observed from their experience is that the parents are actively involved and many enriching activities and experiences are provided above the basics of education. I wish all students could have these advantages. Carr points out that Katrina did not cause the shift to charter schools; it merely accelerated it.

Urban school districts just educate a broad range of students from a variety of backgrounds.

In the book, Carr makes this point by following three individuals — a student, a teacher and a principal. Beginning in August 2010, she follows them over the course of a tumultuous year at three schools, all of them charter schools. The trio’s experiences and varied vantage points provide insight into the economic, social, racial and political currents roiling the city and reshaping public education as the neglected, high-poverty school district is mostly dismantled and replaced by charter schools. Surely there are some parallels to be found here with some Mississippi districts.

By the end of Carr’s book, test scores have risen in New Orleans, especially among African-American students, and there are other signs of improvement. She adds, though, that it will take years to find out whether those changes translate into more students going on to earn college degrees and securing good jobs.

 

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