You Don’t Need a Katrina

One of the ongoing themes surrounding the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is that a transformation of public education, similar to what has taken place in New Orleans, cannot happen elsewhere with a Katrina-type event.

In a recent column, the Chicago Tribune’s Kristen McQueary wished for a Hurricane Katrina. She hoped that a Katrina would hit the reset button for Chicago, as it did for New Orleans.

While McQueary’s thinking is misguided at best, it illustrates a distorted view some outside of New Orleans have of the New Orleans recovery.

There is an education version of this “Katrina reset button” thinking – the transformative education reform taking place in New Orleans is only possible because of Hurricane Katrina.

To accept this premise, you must ignore the educational choice revolution that is sweeping across the United States.

In fact, the revolution started long before Hurricane Katrina. Twenty-five years ago, low-income parents in Milwaukee, Wis., were empowered to use vouchers to pay for their children to attend a private school.

In Louisiana, charter schools and the Recovery School District became a reality prior to Hurricane Katrina. In 2003, the Legislature granted the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education the power to take over chronically low-performing schools.

Across the country, educational choice is becoming the “new normal”. Today there are 48 school choice programs in 23 states, creating more than 3 million scholarship opportunities for children nationwide.

And all of this is happening without epic disasters.

Yes, Hurricane Katrina opened the door to unprecedented education reform in New Orleans, creating a blueprint for change. Thankfully, a Katrina-like disaster is not a necessary ingredient for reform to take place elsewhere.


Paul Dauphin is New Orleans resident and the communications director for the Louisiana Federation for Children.