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Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Hurricane Katrina helped New Orleans schools


This is truly shocking. As Valerie Strauss observes, Katrina was a real hurricane that resulted in the loss of many hundreds of lives. And Monty Neill makes a good point at The Answer Sheet's blog:



Very good point, Valerie, thank you. But it is also worth challenging the Secretary on the question of results. From what I can tell, some schools in New Orleans are now doing well. But it appears that many students and schools are not, they are being left behind. truthout.org has had detailed reports on this, for example.

I am not arguing that every critique is correct -- I do not know. But claims of success from someone who has completely inflated claims of success in his own previous city of Chicago(per now about 4 major independent reviews), touts successes in New York that are at least as questionable and deserving of review as Chicago's -- well, we should not accept questions of success in New Orleans without digging more deeply into the evidence to answer questions about success for whom and what success looks like.



News Flash: Georgia Hedrick, who lived and worked in New Orleans, sent in an alert to the fact that although Arne Duncan claims to have spent a lot of time talking to students at John Mack High School in New Orleans, there is no such school.

Historically, public schools in New Orleans were named for a controversial character, John McDonogh, who left the city a chunk of money when he died in 1850 to build schools for poor white and freed black children. And so schools in New Orleans were named John McDonogh 1, John McDonogh 2, and so on. Georgia says she lived down the street from John McDonogh 35. According to Wikipedia, the following John McDonogh schools are still in operation, post-Katrina: McDonogh Senior High School, #7, #15, #26, #28, #32, #35, #42.


By Nick Anderson

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it forced the community to take steps to improve low-performing public schools, according to excerpts from the transcript of a television interview made public Friday afternoon.

Duncan's interview on "Washington Watch With Roland Martin" was scheduled to air Sunday and Monday on TV One.

The excerpts, e-mailed to reporters, quoted Duncan as giving an evaluation of the effect of the 2005 hurricane on the city's schools.

Martin was quoted as saying to Duncan: "What's amazing is New Orleans was devastated because of Hurricane Katrina, but because everything was wiped out, in essence, you are building from ground zero to change the dynamics of education in that city."

Duncan was quoted as replying: "It's a fascinating one. I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and this is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that 'We have to do better.' And the progress that they've made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable. They have a chance to create a phenomenal school district. Long way to go, but that -- that city was not serious about its education. Those children were being desperately underserved prior, and the amount of progress and the amount of reform we've seen in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing."

Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya confirmed the accuracy of Duncan's quote.

In a statement e-mailed to The Post, Duncan elaborated on the comment: "As I heard repeatedly during my visits to New Orleans, for whatever reason, it took the devastating tragedy of the hurricane to wake up the community to demand more and expect better for their children."

Another excerpt from the TV One interview quoted Duncan on New Orleans educators:

"I have so much respect for the adults, the teachers, the principals that are working hard. I spent a lot of time talking to students at John Mack High School there, many of whom had missed school for six months, eight months, 13 months after the hurricane and still came back to get an education. Children in our country, they want to learn. They're resilient. They're tough. We have to meet them halfway. We have to give them an opportunity, and New Orleans is doing a phenomenal job of getting that system to an entirely different level."

The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss

Duncan's own Hurricane Katrina


When Education Secretary Arne Duncan said to a television reporter in an interview to air Sunday that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to the New Orleans school system, I'm sure he wasn't retroactively wishing a catastrophe to decimate the city and its school buildings.

But his statement concerns me nevertheless.

Here's what he told Roland Martin for TV One's "Washington Watch," airing Sunday at 11 a.m. EST:

"This is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better.

"And the progress that they've made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable. They have a chance to create a phenomenal school district."

Long way to go, but that city was not serious about its education. Those children were being desperately under served prior, and the amount of progress and the amount of reform we've seen in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing...

"Children in our country, they want to learn. They're resilient. They're tough. We have to meet them halfway. We have to give them an opportunity, and New Orleans is doing a phenomenal job of getting that system to an entirely different level."

I think Mr. Duncan has made a mistake.

He may have thought it was a metaphoric hurricane, and indeed they did need a metaphoric hurricane.

Perhaps many cities do and, if he really means that school systems should start from scratch, he should use the billions of dollars he has to dole out to districts to have them do just that.

But Katrina was a real hurricane that resulted in the loss of many hundreds of lives.

Duncan didn't just say once that Katrina was good for New Orleans schools as a throwaway line that he uttered without much thought. His thoughts on this were in paragraphs.

The education secretary is confusing metaphor with reality.

And that is worrisome in an education secretary of the United States.

— Nick Anderson and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post

2010-01-29

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/29/AR2010012903259.html

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