Duncan: Katrina Was The “Best Thing” for New Orleans School System

Jan 29, 2010 5:26pm

ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: Education Secretary Arne Duncan said today that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” because it gave the city a chance to rebuild and improve its failing public schools.

In an interview to air this weekend on “Washington Watch with Roland Martin” Duncan said “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 it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.”

The Education Department confirmed the quote to ABC and Duncan released the following statement in response: “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.”

Here is Duncan’s full exchange with Martin on Katrina:

Martin: I was talking to you on James Carville and Mary Matalin. They’re of course very involved in what’s happening in New Orleans. What’s amazing is New Orleans, is that everything was devastated because of Hurricane Katrina. But because everything was wiped out, in essence, you are building from ground zero to change the dynamic of education in that city.

Duncan: That’s a fascinating one. I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans and this is a tough thing to say but I’m going to be really honest. 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 it 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 underserved prior. And the amount of progress and the amount of reform we’re seeing in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing. I have so much respect for the adults, the teachers, the principals that are working hard. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to students at John Mack high school there. Many who 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 half-way. We have to give them opportunity. And New Orleans is doing a phenomenal job of getting that system to an entirely different level.

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