On Hurricane Katrina’s 15th Anniversary, 5 New Orleans Educators Tap Lessons From the Storm to Confront COVID-19

By Beth Hawkins
August 23, 2020

On the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the devastation wrought by the storm and subsequent flood is still hard to fathom. Within a day of the storm’s landfall Aug. 29, 2005, 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater. Tens of thousands of evacuees crowded into sports arenas and convention centers there and in Baton Rouge and Houston.

By the time engineers had pumped the last of the floodwaters out of the city on Oct. 11, some 1,200 lives had been lost and an estimated $106 billion in damage done. Vast areas had been destroyed.

As in the pandemic today, the reopening of schools was an urgent issue. Families could not rebuild without a safe place to leave their children. Kids needed to be with other kids to continue to develop socially and to process the trauma they were experiencing. And in one of the lowest-performing school systems in the country, no student could afford lost learning.

Reams have been written about the unprecedented effort launched in the wake of the disaster to reform New Orleans’s schools. The state seized all but the top performers and contracted with nonprofit charter school operators to run them. No shortage of controversy still attends the experiment, but 15 years later, academic achievement, high school graduation and college attendance have all risen significantly.

Research by the Tulane University-based Education Research Alliance for New Orleans shows that students who returned to the city’s schools in 2006 and 2007 lagged behind where they had been before the storm, as measured on state standardized tests, but surpassed 2005 achievement levels within two years.

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