Here is part of the second story from Michelle Goldberg who was in New Orleans in January to report on the reconstruction for Salon.com. I hope you’ll click through and read the whole story as it’s good but also to support those who will send reporters down to NOLA.
Before the storm, New Orleans operated 117 public schools for 65,000 kids — over 90 percent of them African-American. Today, only 20 schools are open. School officials say that by August, as families, now scattered across the country, begin to return to New Orleans, the district will open more schools and be able to handle a total of 25,000 kids. But the current lack of available schools is about more than the physical destruction wrought by Katrina. To many activists, it points to serious inequities in the massive transformation of the New Orleans public school system. Long one of the nation’s worst, the school system is being re-created as a laboratory for charter schools, a type of reform often favored by conservatives and opposed by teachers unions and others who see it as a gateway to privatization. Nearly 90 percent, or 102 schools, could ultimately be run as charters. Nothing on this scale has ever been tried before.
Brenda Mitchell, president of United Teachers of New Orleans, says she is not a conspiracy theorist, but when she considers the new charter system, she is not sure how else to think. “It’s all part of the privatization and social engineering of the city, limiting the return of poor people and African-Americans,” she says. “If you’re not providing housing for them, if you don’t want to provide schools to educate them, how are they going to come back to rebuild the city?” Yet this isn’t simply a battle between callous privatizers and righteous locals. Plenty of residents are desperate for a school system that works, and they’re eager for a restructuring. New Orleans public schools were a disaster well before Katrina hit, and some of the city’s education experts see a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rebuild them free of the stifling, often corrupt bureaucracy that’s impeded progress in the past. “For a long time before the storm, the Louisiana public schools have been in the bottom 10 percent of national performance scores, and New Orleans has been at the bottom of that,” says Michael Cowan, executive director of the Lindy Boggs Literacy Center at Loyola University, and an advisor to the education committee of Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission.
“Public education in New Orleans for a long time has been about everything but the well-being of children,” he says. “It’s about who controls contracts. It’s about the union agreement. It’s been tremendously racially polarized. By and large, our public school system has been one of the big limitations on quality of life in the city for a long time.”