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New Orleans is located in Louisiana and is one of the United States' biggest and most important ports. Predominately a French-influenced city, New Orleans is also the 46th largest U.S. city. As of 2010, the city and its surroundings had a population of just fewer than 350,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Most famous for its unique French cuisines, music, and notably Mardi Gras (first celebrated in 1838), the city continues to be a popular destination for tourists (State of Louisiana). The city is often described as the "most unique" city in America by many travel agencies ("A brief history,").
Founded May 7, 1718 by two French brothers, Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d'lberville and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, the city was the first European settlement on the Gulf Coast ("City park history,"). Although founded by French settlers, its early population was not dominated by any single group of people. Instead, there was a mixture of cultures, which led to New Orleans' unique culture today. However, early inhabitants of New Orleans found themselves in a very difficult place to live. The area was swampy and had high levels of humidity and heat. In addition, mosquitoes ravaged the area and plagued the inhabitants with Yellow Fever, which contributed to an abnormally high death rate in the area during 18th century ("A brief history,").
Throughout the 19th century, the city continued to be a major port and resource for whoever controlled it, exchanging hands many times between France, Great Britain and Spain ("A brief history,"). Following the American Revolution, the colony was ceded to the Spanish in 1783 by the Treaty of Paris, but was later returned to French control in 1801 (Our Documents, 1783). In 1803 New Orleans was sold to the United States by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase (National Park Service, 1804). New Orleans later played a huge role as an important port during the War of 1812, when a young Andrew Jackson pulled out a surprising victory against the British that would ultimately help him win the presidency in 1829. Louisiana eventually became the 18th state on April 20, 1812 (State of Louisiana).
The state seceded from the Union briefly during the American Civil War, however, it was quickly recaptured by the Union. This allowed New Orleans to continue its growth and influence in the South as well as cultivate its unique culture as more and more people flocked to the area (Caravella, 2003). The city remained the nation's fifth largest city and was the largest city in the South for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, during the 20th century New Orleans began to succumb in population and economic strength to cities like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami (Peirce, 2003). To compensate, New Orleans began to increase its dependence on tourism for its economic stability. Unfortunately, increasing rates of poverty and crime began to significantly impact the city's tourism during the late 19th century through the early 21st century (Glassman, 1978).
During the 20th century, as urban sprawl advanced throughout the country, residents of New Orleans began moving to the suburbs. Given the city's swamplands, most developments were limited to high ground. However, in 1913 Albert Baldwin Wood, an engineer from New Orleans, invented a system of pumps called the Wood Screw Pump and the Wood Trash Pump to drain the swamplands and make them suitable for development. Unfortunately, these developments were several feet below sea level and according to many scientists, they were extremely vulnerable to flooding (McQuaid, 2005).
The 21st century brought two of the most famous and deadly hurricanes in United States' history with Katrina and Rita. Hurricane Katrina made landfall August 29, 2005 as a category 3 hurricane and caused the federal levee system to fail, which is often described as the "worst civil engineering disaster in America's history," (Marshal, 2005). Billy Prochaska, an engineer in the forensic group Team Louisiana said, "this wasn't a complicated problem" (Marshal, 2005). This is something the corps, Eustis, Modjeki and Masters (engineering firms) do all the time. Yet everyone missed it - everyone from the local offices all the way to Washington" (Marshall, 2005). Eighty percent of the city and large tracts of neighboring suburbs became flooded and remained flooded for weeks. The failed levees, in conjunction with Katrina, resulted in an estimated 91 billion dollars in damage and destroyed half a million homes, making it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Katrina resulted in the death of 1,836 people and was the sixth strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic to reach land (Knabb, Rhome, & Brown, 2005).
Aside from the economic and emotional devastation caused from Hurricane Katrina, public education, specifically K-12, was also vastly effected. With education being extremely important to our country's future, it was essential that administrators and government officials on a local, state, and national level, address the displacement of thousands of students throughout New Orleans and the surrounding areas. An effective response needed to focus on both academics and the emotional issues of the students. This research paper will examine the effects of Hurricane Katrina on K-12 education in New Orleans and its surrounding areas by analyzing the local, state and federal response and the scope of the outcome.
Although Hurricane Katrina had devastating effects on the school system in New Orleans, it's important to keep in mind their condition before the hurricane. Prior to Katrina, the schools were literally falling apart (Merrow, 2005). Out of 126 schools, more than 50 schools in the district were over 50 years old, and a few were even older than 100 years (Oblack; Merrow, 2010). Jimmy Fahrenholtz, a member of the New Orleans school board, stated that before Katrina "we had probably 50 to 60 schools that should have been torn down" (Merrow, 2005). Fahrenholtz went on to say that it wasn't just a matter of the buildings' conditions, but also the "fraud, corruption, contracts, scams, and flat-out theft" that contributed to the school systems' reputation of incompetence and dishonesty. During the period from 2002 to 2005, 24 indictments were made against school employees. Seventy-one million dollars in federal grants was unaccounted for, and over 70% of eighth graders were not proficient in math or English. Fahrenholtz said it got so bad that the school board hired an independent company, the New York firm of Alvarez and Marsal, to try and turn things around. The company's findings exasperated Fahrenholtz and his fellow board members (Merrow, 2005). According to their report, the school system was riveted with "years and years of abuse, and of people just doing what they wanted to do." One example was a teacher on paid leave for 35 years. Other examples included people logging 50 hours of overtime a week, even during Christmas. In an attempt to address the problems, Bill Roberti and Sajan George of Alvarez and Marsal were assigned to take over. Roberti and George said it was one of their hardest challenges while working with the firm (Merrow, 2005). George went on to say that it was so bad, parents were even required to send their kids to school with toilet paper because the bathrooms were not stocked. During their first week, the two men cut 48 million dollars from the district's budget. In addition, Roberti and George personally made sure that every school was cleaned, stocked, and ready to open for the school year.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina hit ten days later. Katrina not only destroyed 110 out of 126 schools, but it also flooded the school system's central office and damaged most of the financial and management records stored there (Oblack; Merrow, 2010). Immediately following the storm, the school board put everyone on "disaster leave" and advised all teachers to look for jobs elsewhere. Shortly after, the state took over 102 of the 126 public schools in New Orleans through the Recovery School District (RSD), a program originally designed to take over academically failing schools, and the RSD began placing students in surrounding school systems (Gewetz, 2005). In total, 400,000 students (65,000 of them residing in New Orleans alone) from the Katrina ravaged areas were forced to attend schools elsewhere. Many of them even had to cross state boarders to find schools willing to accept them. Only two public schools eventually reopened in New Orleans after Katrina hit, Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Eleanor McMain High School. However, 14 charter schools opened or reopened during the 2005-2006 school year. Out of New Orleans' 65,000 students prior to Katrina, only 4,800 students returned immediately following Katrina (Gewetz, 2005). Ron Midkliff, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin Elementary, was reinstated and returned to New Orleans for the school's opening on November 28, 2005. In a comment to the press he said, "it sure is good to hear the kids' voice in here again" (Gewertz, 2005).
A huge problem many of the schools faced upon opening was the loss of student records. This made it difficult to determine and validate information such as grade levels or the fulfillment of graduation requirements. In addition, many students with disabilities went without special services, which they were previously receiving. As a result, students enrolled in RSD schools struggled academically, and only half of the returning seniors met graduation requirements for the 2006-2007 school year (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Another problem facing the schools was funding. With the entire budget already spent, the schools were in desperate need of money. To add to their worries, the amount of tax revenue generated through property tax was expected to be significantly lower as a result of many residents leaving and never returning (Hoff, 2005). On July 1st, 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau had estimated that roughly 455,000 people lived in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, whereas in July, 2006, the population was estimated to be 223,000 (Census Bureau, 2008). In addition, over 500,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in New Orleans and its surrounding areas, and more than 800,000 people displaced as a result of Katrina ("Fun facts about", 2007). Overall, Katrina cost the state of Louisiana 1 billion dollars in tax revenue, which directly affected the schools (Hoff, 2005). Linda Roan, a spokesperson for the school district said, "we are going to have a cash-flow problem very shortly," and Douglas Chance, an administrator for the district added, "we'll [the schools] have to tighten our belts significantly for the 2006-07 school year" (Hoff, 2005).
One response to the budget shortfall was the opening of charter schools. The Security of Education funded the charter schools of Louisiana 20.9 million dollars under the No Child Left Behind Act and the Charter School Program, and within a few weeks after Katrina, 14 charter schools were open and operating (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). While the public schools experienced teacher shortages, inadequate facilities, and construction delays, the charter schools saw increased enrollment, higher test scores, and a surplus of funds by the end of their first year. Following the 2006-2007 school year, residents and officials were so impressed that they fast-tracked and approved the development of 9 additional charter schools for the 2007-2008 school year (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). What began as a temporary fix to quickly bring students back to New Orleans, quickly turned into a possible long-term solution. One victory for the charter schools was its popularity among African Americans and low-income families. This was a huge achievement given 90% of New Orleans students are African American and 82% are considered low-income (Khadaroo, 2010). As a result, many charter schools saw an increase in enrollment amongst these demographics. As of the 2006-2007 school year, African American students represented 97.3% of charter school students (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Ironically, this created a problem for the charter schools, since many of them were not meeting the state or federal requirements for segregation. However, given the circumstances, the Federal Government passed The Hurricane Regulatory Relief Act of 2005, which gave schools more time to meet these requirements (Davis, 2005; Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Although most charter schools eventually overcame this challenge, unfortunately, some did not (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). The Academy College Preparatory School (ATOP) was one such charter school.
Like many public schools, ATOP struggled with many issues. Although it was located in a district with primarily a white and Hispanic population, its student enrollment was 90% African American (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Many people contributed this to ATOP's ability to address African American students' needs even though teachers at ATOP were not required to have a certificate in education or training (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Unfortunately, parents and members of the community eventually began to question their credentials. In addition, ATOP began to acquire a reputation for being a dumpsite for problem students from the public schools. It was rumored that parents of special need or problem children were encouraged to enroll their students in charter schools with the hope that they could better understand and help them (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Although most charter schools were able to handle the demand, it became too much for ATOP. Without warning, when students returned from Christmas Break during the 2007-2008 school year, they found the doors locked and no one there. However, many charter schools did remain open in New Orleans and are still looked upon as possible long-term solutions. One advantage charter schools provide is the opportunity of choice, which is seldom available in most communities except for wealthy residents. Following the devastation and destruction caused by Katrina, parents were eager to feel in control of their children's education. Given charter schools were proving to address social, educational and cultural needs of students, they became a viable option for many low-income homes (Frazier-Anderson, 2008).
Roughly 70 percent of New Orleans schools are expected to be charter schools by the end of 2011, and many people are wondering how this may affect disabled and special needs students. Following Katrina, the RSD suspended roughly 4,500 students with special-needs, which represented approximately 27% of all special-needs students in the New Orleans school district for the 2006-2007 school year. Some individual schools under the RSD's control had over 50% of their special-needs students suspended permanently, with little to no documentation (Frazier-Anderson, 2008). Compare this to a city like Baltimore, whose student demographics are very similar to New Orleans, which had only 13.5% of its special-needs students suspended during the same school year. The problem was that many schools in New Orleans were not following student Individual Education Programs (IEPs) or were unwilling to implement IEPs for new students. As a result, New Orleans only graduated 6.4% of their students with special needs compared to 24% and 29% respectively in Baltimore and St. Louis, also very similar in student demographics (Democker, 2010). Andre Perry, CEO of schools under the Capital One-University of New Orleans Charter School Network said, "ultimate[ly the] problem is that there are not enough resources in the system" (Democker, 2010). Although New Orleans received federal funding to help re-build its schools after Katrina, it was a one-time benefit and eventually the grant money would run out. Schools would have to make cuts, and according to Pamela Frazier-Anderson, a Ph.D. and M.Ed. graduated from Arizona State University in Educational Psychology, those cuts would come at the cost of students with special-needs who were already severely unfunded. According to Michael Democker, a journalist for the Time-Picayune-Landov in Louisiana, unless a solution was reached soon, not even the charter schools would be able to address this problem (Democker, 2010).
Given most of the schools with the lowest percentage of disabled students were charter schools, and the four highest performing charter schools also had the lowest percentage of disabled students, one possible solution proposed by Democker was to change how charter schools enrolled their students (Democker, 2010). Instead of charter schools controlling their own enrollment process, Democker suggested that one unit coordinate all enrollment at charter schools to level out the percentage of special-needs students attending these schools. (Democker, 2010). Another solution proposed by Perry was to reevaluate the system that determines which students qualify for special needs, because Perry felt many students who needed IEPs were not getting them. He went on to say that the system also did not account for emotional distress caused by Katrina. He did not believe, however, looking outside the district would provide any solutions. According to Perry, "New Orleans is unique in that it has gone through a lot to get where it is today. So, while we can look at best practices elsewhere, we can't just look off someone else's paper and steal the answers." (Democker, 2010). In July, 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center, in agreement with Democker, filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Education alleging that charter schools were turning away disabled students, which is a direct violation of the Federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. This case is still currently being fought over in the court system and is likely to make its way of to the Supreme Court (Frazier-Anderson, 2008).
To compound the problem, many children developed posttraumatic stress as a result of Katrina. Although many adults suffered from posttraumatic stress, children were even more vulnerable according to the Louisiana State University Healthy Science Center. As part of their research, the center conducted surveys on 2,362 4th to 12th grade students during the 2005-2006 school year and 4,896 during the 2006-2007 school year. All the students surveyed were from Louisiana public schools, however, the majority of them resided in New Orleans. According to the survey, many students were experiencing a great deal of stress as a result of Katrina and their displacement. They saw their homes and neighborhoods completely destroyed and lost everything they owned including family pets. In addition, many were separated from their parents at times, and some actually witnessed family and friends injured or even killed (McLeish, & Del Ben, 2008). Over half of the students surveyed were experiencing symptoms such as crying, aggression, resentment, sadness, withdrawal, denial, flashbacks, guilt, and substance abuse (Homeland Security, 2008). A similar study done at Louisiana State University also found that students who survived Katrina experienced higher levels of depression and posttraumatic stress when compared to students on other campuses (Davis, Grills-Taquechel, & Ollendick, 2010). In addition, University of Montreal graduate Cintia Quiroga, who researched the effects of depression on high school students, also found that "when adjusting for socioeconomic factors, a depressed student is 1.66 times more likely to drop out than a non-depressive student in the same socioeconomic bracket. The higher the feelings of depression, the higher the risk of dropping out" (Carranza, 2010). In yet another study done in 2003 by Wayne Dixon, Ph.D. and Jon K. Reid, it was determined that college dropouts are twice as likely to experience clinical depression throughout their life when compared to college graduates (Carranza, 2010). Ultimately, the seriousness of these problems and their effect cannot be overstated, and although the federal and state government granted over 2 billion dollars towards education in Katrina ravaged areas, many felt more was still needed (Homeland Security, 2008). Consequently, New Orleans schools recently secured a grant for 28.5 million dollars from the Federal Government and the Department of Education towards improving educational innovation (McLeish, & Del Ben, 2008).
A recent review done by the state of Louisiana of the RSD's performance in December of 2010 found that they were making successful gains ("Port-Katrina reforms produce, 2011). In addition, a poll conducted by the Tulane University's Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives in 2010 determined that 60% of New Orleans residents approved of RSD's performance ("Post-Katrina reforms produce," 2011). In support of these findings, from 2007 to 2010 the percentage of seniors who graduated from RSD and charter schools rose from 50% to 90%, the highest level ever achieved ("Post-Katrina reforms produce", 2011). Although New Orleans students still test well below the state average in math and English, they are improving at a faster rate than any other district in the state. The percentage of students scoring at or above the basic level in English rose from 37% in 2007 to 52% in 2010 ("Post-Katrina reforms produce", 2011).
Although RSD and charter schools in New Orleans have achieved some success, it is difficult to determine the exact cause according to Shannon Jones, the executive director of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University. However, Jones goes on say that some of it is due to "schools being held accountable for [their] results." She also acknowledges the surprising success of the charter schools. One example she points to is the success of Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business. As the first and only all-boys school in the state, it has opened its enrollment to boys with failing grades or in the juvenile justice system. Tiffany Hardrick, co-founder of the school says, "they've [the boys] made a tremendous turnaround" (Khadaroo, 2010).
One problem facing charter schools is their apparent popularity. Shortly after Katrina, there was a variety of charter schools with plenty of room for children wishing to enroll. Six years later, there is no longer a "plethora of charter of schools" says Aesha Rasheed, executive director of the New Orleans Parent Organizing Network, and parents are beginning to feel like their choices have become limited (Merrow, 2005). However, school officials are hoping that will change with the coming school year given a recent award of 1.8 billion dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for charter schools. According to Rasheed, the goal is to provide "excellent schools for every child," by having over 70% of the schools in New Orleans charter schools, making it the largest proportion of charter schools in the country (Khadaroo, 2010; Merrow, 2005).
One difficultly facing the district, however, is convincing residents who evacuated to places as far away as Alaska to return. Ultimately, schools and teachers won't be needed unless families return given New Orleans was left "virtually childless" after Katrina (Merrow, 2005). However, when asked during an interview "if you build it, will they come", Bill Roberti from Alvarez and Marsal replied, "we believe [they] will" (Merrow, 2005). With the help of federal and state money, this seems very plausible. Recently, the city's population has reached over 300,000 for the first time since before Katrina (Census Bureau, 2008). More and more schools are opening every year, and enrollment is increasing exponentially (Merrow, 2005).
By examining the performance of the New Orleans schools prior to Katrina, the affects of Katrina are much more apparent. Prior to Katrina, the schools were lacking in every category. They experienced corruption, fraud, transportation issues, budget deficits, theft, poor teacher quality, and lower test scores. They lacked the resources needed for their students to succeed, had high dropout rates, and had one of the lowest percentages in the nation of graduating seniors. The schools desperately needed to be reformed and transformed. Despite the devastation and the exposure of New Orleans' problems to the entire nation, Katrina ultimately encouraged reform of the schools and paved the way to a better education for its students.
During the months immediately following Katrina, many issues plagued the schools. The two biggest were the displacement of students and the rebuilding of the schools. Another issue, however, was meeting the needs of students. One solution to this problem was the expansion of charter schools. Unlike public schools, charter schools often have a budget surplus, which allows them to continue meeting the needs of their students. Although initially there was criticism from the community and officials, charter schools played a huge role in restoring New Orleans schools. In just a year following Katrina, many charter schools were producing the highest test scores ever achieved by students in the New Orleans school district. For this reason, over 70% of schools in New Orleans are expected to be charter schools by the end of the 2011 school year (Khadaroo, 2010). In addition, schools under the control of the RSD have also had positive results although not as drastic as the charter schools. Both the RSD schools and charter schools graduation numbers are up, and their test scores are gaining ground on statewide averages, something not common in heavily populated areas or inner city schools.
One area still in need of improvement, however, is the special education programs. This was especially true in the early stages following Katrina. Charter schools in particular allocated very little resources to special-needs students, which kept enrollment of these students low. This allowed them to spend less money on special education and more on traditional education, which may have contributed as to why they had higher test scores and better results more quickly. RSD schools, on the other hand, didn't have adequate funding for either traditional or special education, although they were more likely to allocate resources towards special educations than charter schools. Although the schools are steadily making progress, they are still not meeting expectations for these programs.
In regards to depression and posttraumatic stress, it could be years before enough information is gathered to determine the psychological affects of Katrina on students. However, a conclusion has been reached that depression and posttraumatic stress can harm a students' education. As a result of limited resources for determining and addressing the needs of students suffering from these conditions, the issue remains largely ignored by schools with the belief that these students will eventually be filtered through the system.
Despite the New Orleans school district's inability to adequately address the psychological condition of its students, the affects of hurricane Katrina, although devastating in the short-term, do not appear to pose a problem in the long-term. Schools in New Orleans not only recovered from the effects of Katrina, but they surpassed expectations. The devastation from Katrina has given the schools new life and a chance to start over. New Orleans has seized this opportunity and is out performing other inner city schools around the country in graduation rates, test scores, and proficiency levels. In conclusion, it is my opinion that the effects of Katrina will not have any long-term negative impact. On the contrary, I believe that not only will the schools soon be an excellent example of the benefit of providing parents the choice of either public or charter schools, but they will actually become a draw for the community. Living in New Orleans offers a cultural experience not found anywhere else in this country. Couple this with a successful educational system and New Orleans will become a community of hope and inspiration for the country.