Was Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans public school?

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Was hurricane Katrina good for the New Orleans public schools and what changes occurred within the school systems after Katrina hit? Post Katrina, New Orleans was a mess.  New Orleans was known as the lowest performing school district in Louisiana and many of the teachers and students had lost hope and sight of a good education.  The city of New Orleans was in desperate need of help; in 2004, two thirds of the schools in New Orleans were rated “Academically Unacceptable” under Louisiana’s accountability standards.  After Katrina hit, government officials took quick action and New Orleans was declared to be in “Academic Crisis.”  The Recovery School District (RSD) took control over the failing public schools and turned many of them into Charter Schools.  The Pre-Katrina Era of New Orleans brought about, the rapid expansion of RSD, the removal of school attendance zones, the rise of charter schools, and a new group of teachers which improved the education system in New Orleans.

While researching the questions of “Was Hurricane Katrina good for the New Orleans Public Schools,” I came across many conflicting articles.  For this assignment I thought it would be good to write about two sources that contradicted each other.  One book called “Resilience and Opportunity” gave the impression that Katrina was good for New Orleans, while an article called “Squeezing Public Education: History and Ideology Gang Up on New Orleans,” by Ralph Adamo explained the shortcomings that Hurricane Katrina brought to the education system.

In chapter 3 of Resilience and Opportunity written by Andre Perry and Michael Schwarm-Baird, we see a whole chapter about the rebuilding of public schools after Hurricane Katrina.  Perry and Schwarm-Baird say that Hurricane Katrina brought about three positive things to the school system: the rapid expansion of Recovery School District (RSD), the removal of School attendance zones and the rise of charter schools.  With the RSD system, the state was able to take over failing public schools and turn them into better schools.  RSD turned many of these schools into charter schools.  During this time the government passed Act 35, which expanded the RSD schools because of its new rules.  Schools were now considered failing if their School Performance Score (SPS) was below state average and now RSD only applied to schools that were in districts that were consider to be in “academic crisis” (the district operated more than 30 academically, inacceptable schools or had more than 50% of its students in such schools) which was helpful for New Orleans obviously because their district was in academic crisis.  The last part of this act said that the RSD had authority over the land and building occupied by the school that it took over therefore there was rapid reconstruction of all the school buildings.  The RSD had five years to operate before the BESE can decide whether to return the school to local control.  From what Perry and Schwarm-Baird explained, these schools sounded like they were making a difference in New Orleans.  Perry and Schwarm-Baird also said that Post-Katrina most schools in New Orleans had attendance zones, which decided where students should attend school.  Students were forced to go to schools that were in their local neighborhoods no matter if there were better schools around them.  Pre-Katrina the government abandoned these attendance zones and gave students and parents free choice of their schools and most charter schools were required to take any student in the city.  RSD made a common application process in order to help parents apply to these schools.  Parents were please by these new rules but this also they also posed questions for the government, such as how will students get to these schools; transportation became a problem.  While Perry and Schwarm-Baird stated all these great things that happened to New Orleans Pre-Katrina, Ralph Adamo seems to think differently.

In Ralph Adamo’s article he states that there was a rapid expansion of Recovery School District (RSD), there was the removal of School attendance zones and there was the rise of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina, but he say that some of these things were not good for Katrina. RSD came in and quickly took over most of the Public Schools in New Orleans but they did not open these schools in good conditions, Adamo says, “RSD opened seventeen schools in the fall of 2006-schools that were inadequately staffed (many still have only a minority of certified teachers); that lacked books, food services, and other infrastructural necessities; and that started the year in school buildings that had either not been improved at all or were in the middle of reconstruction,” (Adamo 5).  Also the RSD staff realized that they had not opened enough schools for the amount of students that were attending these schools so they were forced to open more schools quicker, which turned into a disaster.  Adamo also comments on the abandonment of the attendance zones.  He explained that although it was good for parents to get to choose their school for their children, it lead to confusion.  “…when the school year began in fall 2006, we saw a spectacle of confused and harried parents wandering all over town trying to make sense of their new “choices.” Instead of genuine community input…” (Adamo 4-5).  Adamo also tries to argue that in times of crisis private companies try to make a profit off of these districts and they end up making a bigger mess and more confusion.

I am doing more research to come up with my answer to the initial question, but from these two sources it is interesting to see how many people have different opinions about the topic.


Adamo, Ralph. “Squeezing Public Education: History and Ideology Gang Up in New Orleans.” Dissent Magazine. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=862>..

Liu, Amy. “Chapter 3.” Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2011. Print.

3 thoughts on “Was Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans public school?”

  1. This question is incredibly interesting. I never would have thought about the fact that a hurricane could in some way benefit a community but from your research and the book you are reading, Resilience and Opportunity, it sounds like maybe the hurricane could have had a positive impact on the New Orleans school systems. You may want to clarify in your thesis, after doing more research, whether overall the RSD taking control over all of the public schools was positive or negative. I think your two sources are great and that it is a good idea to weight both the positive and negatives of rebuilding the schools systems and they were also cited very clearly at the end of your paper. You don’t have to add this but it may be interesting to provide some moving background information on Hurricane Katrina to draw the reader in (maybe this would end up being irrelevant though) and how much of an impact it made on the community.

  2. Like Taylor, I didn’t think that such a disaster would be, by any means positive/beneficial to a community, much less to education. I also think it was very informative, considering I did not know much about education pre&post-Katrina. I like that you show both sides in terms of RSD taking over…in general, I really don’t have any critiques. I think you’re on a good start. I like Taylor think perhaps a few sentences giving us an image of what Hurricane Katrina looked like, why it was necessary for these things to happen. although I do have knowledge of what happened, I think it’s helpful to contextualize it some more for the reader. Good job!

  3. This is one of the more intriguing research questions that I have heard in awhile. I would have never thought that Katrina could have possibly brought positive changes after seeing the footage and reading about the disaster. I really like the idea you have to take opposite sides of the spectrum and compare them. I would have never known that an author would ever examine the positives after all of the disaster and all of the pain that Katrina brought to the city of New Orleans. The only suggestion I have is that you should also maybe focus on the perspective of the residents of New Orleans. I think it is very important to speak not only whether Katrina was important from an educational standpoint, but also from a personal humanized perspective.I am very interested to see how this paper turns out and goodluck with the rest of your paper.

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