Shortly after the storm, mixed in with the sadness and struggle, there was also a sense of optimism - that with the slate wiped clean, we might have the chance to rebuild in a new, better way, making the sort of radical corrections that could only happen in the wake of such an extreme event. A year later, some of this optimism has faded. But I still hold out hope for the schools.
Before the storm, New Orleans' school system was a chronic, atrocious, profoundly dysfunctional train wreck. For decades, people talked about turning it around. Nothing of substance ever happened.
Now, in this particular regard, the slate really has been wiped clean, and we're embarking on a grand scholastic experiment. Only a handful of schools remain under the control of the old school board. A number of others have been taken over by the state. And the rest have become charters: independent charters, affiliated groups of charters, charters under the purview of various local universities. And for the most part, parents can send their children wherever they want.
Is there anywhere else in the country with a predominantly charter-based school system? I haven't heard of one. I've always been a little wary of the charter school movement, concerned that the end result might be to gut the conventional public schools. But in this particular case, I'm all for it. Nothing could be worse than what we had. And with the removal of an inept bureaucracy, and real choices, and an opportunity for true parental involvement, things stand a good chance of being substantially better.
As the schools go, so goes the rest of the city. The pre-storm failure of the school system played a key role in the city's slow decline. If we can turn the school's around, then our city, as a whole, really stands a chance.
Cross your fingers.