August 29, 2006
‘Coming to a City Near You’

Vickie White is worried. “They are doing away with public education as we know it,” she says. White helped organize a trip to New Orleans this summer for the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) Central Jersey. After seeing how public education is being drastically altered there, she said she feared that very system would spread. “The theme I came back with was, ‘Coming to a city near you,'” she says.

As children line up for school buses on first days of school throughout the country, the management of New Orleans’ schools post-Katrina is causing anxiety amongst public education advocates. Others, including the nonpartisan Urban Institute, and former Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry Cisneros (now chair of City-View, a private venture dedicated to urban housing development) are looking to the Crescent City as a model for the future of American education.

In June, POP Central Jersey and Newark’s House of Prayer Episcopal Church sponsored the 21st-Century Freedom Ride: New Jersey to New Orleans. The trip flew twenty-five people, a dozen of them high school students, to New Orleans to find out what was really happening there and to volunteer with Common Ground Collective, a grassroots relief organization founded by New Orleans residents shortly after Katrina. Besides helping with the cleanup effort in the Ninth Ward, the group saw what Katrina and government neglect did to the city and its residents — and what was being done to bring the city back.

While in New Orleans, the group attended an education summit hosted by the National Coalition for Quality Schools in New Orleans and the People’s Organizing Committee, a group working to help residents return to the city.

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