Hope Against Hope:
Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America's Children
by Sarah Carr
$27.00 List Price
Hope Against Hope takes place in a New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but even more prominent in journalist Sarah Carr’s story is a highly unnatural disaster: American poverty. The daily lives of many New Orleans schoolchildren, before and after Katrina, amount to an ongoing state of emergency, one that can make the stable, orderly enterprise of learning close to impossible. Kids must get up at 5AM so mothers can get to low-wage jobs. Teens get shot, or watch their friends die.
Carr’s book takes an intimate look at the real people—students, principals, teachers—affected by “school reform,” a slippery term that in the storm-ravaged polity of New Orleans means privatization, a weakening of teachers’ unions and elected school boards, and an increasing dependence on testing data. The phrase also tends to convey a “no excuses” approach to the performance of teachers and schools: If students don’t perform and make measurable progress, teachers get fired and schools close.
Amid the neoliberal-minded recovery efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans, this brand of school reform has gained greater traction than it has in any other American city. Carr uses her reporting to complicate two prevailing—and, in her view, inadequate—narratives characterizing school reform. In the first, it is the brainchild of hedge-fund billionaires acting in their own self-interest, who will destroy public education if they get their way. In the second—which has won wide assent from the leaders of both major political parties—these so-called reforms are a much-needed defense against teachers’ unions,