|The New Orleans classroom of Jeri Hill (from the NYTimes article|
Sarah Carr has an interesting article on the New Orleans school reform effort in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times. I believe she is correct in questioning whether improving schools can "fix" poverty-stricken communities. Her description of the current New Orleans school reform crusade as a "missionary pursuit" that may be unsustainable in the long run is perfect. Both of these points echo arguments that my co-author and I make in our 2009 book Public Education: America's Social History.
Still, I think Ms. Carr is wrong in suggesting that the reform efforts in New Orleans have somehow damaged the community. In 2005, most of the city's public school children lived in low-income, single-parent families. Most of the working-age adults below the poverty level were not only out of work, but out of the labor force entirely. The violent crime rate in neighborhoods surrounding the schools was already skyrocketing. The school board was corrupt and incompetent. I cannot imagine what institutional changes could have weakened any further a community in this state. While the civic society is probably not immediately bound for utopia, it is certainly no worse off because of charter schools and young educational missionaries.