"It's work like this that makes journalism truly matter, that makes clear that reportage is not merely about fact and argument and theory, but about human lives in the balance. In Hope Against Hope, Sarah Carr has taken an open mind and a careful eye to the delicate, complicated issue of public education and the fading American commitment to equality of opportunity. She does so not by embracing ideological cant or political banter, but by following people through the schools of New Orleans, a city that is trying desperately to reconstitute and better itself after a near-death experience. Don't embarrass yourself by speaking further on American education without first reading this."—David Simon, creator ofThe Wire and Treme
“Of the many dreams and schemes for upgrading New Orleans after Katrina, the controversial, convulsive overhaul of the city’s public schools is the one that really happened. Sarah Carr offers readers a ringside seat on an attempted revolution. No one who cares about public education in America can afford to ignore this balanced and vivid account.”—Jed Horne, author of Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American CityIn September 2005, just days after Katrina, the New Orleans school board placed its thousands of employees on unpaid leave. Three months later it effectively voted to fire them. And in November, the state legislature removed most of the city’s public schools from the control of the locally elected board and placed them in the Recovery School District, with key officials intending to turn them over to charter operators. They had plenty of evidence to support their case: the failure of nearly two thirds of the schools to meet the state’s minimum criteria for academic performance; the school district’s impending financial ruin; nearly $70 million in federal money not accounted for properly; the FBI investigators who moved into the school system offices to probe financial irregularities, crumbling facilities where hallways smelled of urine; the near complete abandonment of the public schools by the city’s middle and upper classes and the shocking disinvestment of those with power and money that ensued; the frustration and anger of many of those left behind; and the undervalued children who, taking stock of it all, not infrequently gave up.
Some call the education overhaul a clean slate and fresh start for one of the country’s worst school systems. Others describe it as disaster capitalism at its most flagrant and destructive. But regardless, the reinvention of New Orleans schools after Katrina became the nation’s most comprehensive test case for a school reform agenda favored by a diverse coalition including President Obama, hedge fund billionaires, and young idealists.
In HOPE AGAINST HOPE: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children, education reporter Sarah Carr tells the story of this reinvention through the varying perspectives and experiences of the people living it.
Over the course of a year, Carr immersed herself in the lives of veteran principal Mary Laurie, new teacher Aidan Kelly, and fourteen-year-old Geraldlynn Stewart and her family. She observed hundreds of classes, visited colleges with students, sat in on professional retreats and staff meetings, and shadowed her subjects late into the night.
The debate over urban education in America, crystallized in New Orleans, speaks to broad, deeply rooted tensions in our country over what the civil rights movement should look like in the 21st century, and who should lead it. It speaks to fundamental disagreements over how the push for racial equality should proceed, at a time when the end goal remains as elusive as ever. And it speaks to a nationwide loss of trust — in our public institutions, each other and ourselves. At its heart, HOPE AGAINST HOPE is the story of our community’s painful struggle — in the wake of one of the most tragic disasters in our history — to rebuild that trust.
Sarah Carr has written about education for the last twelve years, reporting on the growth in online learning in higher education, the battle over vouchers and charter schools in urban districts, and the struggle to educate China’s massive population of migrant children. Her work has been honored with numerous national awards and fellowships, most recently a Spencer Education Journalist Fellowship at Columbia University. She lives in New Orleans, where she covered schools for the Times-Picayune. Hope Against Hope is her first book.