Sarah Carr offers insight into the hidden workings of New Orleans school systems

Evan Krupp, Contributing Reporter

At 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 in Dixon Hall, the Tulane Reading Project will host a lecture by Sarah Carr, one of the nation’s most distinguished voices on education policy and reform – the first in a series of presentations aimed towards sparking discourse on these highly complex, hotly politicized topics. As a journalist, Carr has received tremendous critical acclaim for her reports on charter schools, online learning and China’s education system.

In her latest major work, “Hope Against Hope,” Carr chronicles the unprecedented overhaul the troubled New Orleans public school system underwent in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, masterfully weaving first and third person narrative, factual overview and her own professional commentary in relaying the experiences of those most affected by it. She centers the discussion around three people: Mary Laurie, a veteran principle; Aidan Kelly, a young teacher; and Geraldlynn Stewart, a fourteen year old student at KIPP Renaissance, an experimental college prep charter school.

Carr spent over a year following her subjects through this tumultuous period, during which experts, businessmen and philanthropists came together to forge a new path for the city and establish grounds for future nationwide urban reform. New Orleans post-Katrina presented a theoretical “great frontier” of sorts for educators, as the promise of innovative, scientifically based policies and relative autonomy for teachers attracted substantial young talent and allowed for an improved focus amongst students.

Still, what seems to emerge from these accounts is an often overwhelming web of competing philosophies, failed intentions and frustration due to extenuating circumstances. Essentially at task is the ability to properly educate a generation mired in crippling socioeconomic hardship, despite awareness of the striking (and growing) lack of social mobility for a community with a shortage of college graduates to provide a positive example of the benefits of education. There are jaded teachers, students who have never had the joys of education communicated to them and stumbling blocks that no maturing kid has the ability to struggle with.

While Carr certainly doesn’t conceal these difficulties, she takes care to present the intense passion of the teachers, administrators and philanthropists who have put in tireless, often thankless work to provide a new perspective, and the resolve of the students who have responded in kind. Perhaps more importantly, she stays grounded in the stories of each of her subjects and so many others, demonstrating the impacts of broader social trends on the everyday citizen. With this approach she presents the situation in all of its complexity.

Through this in-depth discussion on an issue that reflects significant social trends, audience members will be inspired by a story of hope and perseverance while expanding their understanding of the New Orleans community and the American education system in general.