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Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  281 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Geraldlynn is a lively, astute 14-year-old. Her family, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, returns home to find a radically altered public education system. Geraldlynn's parents hope their daughter's new school will prepare her for college--but the teenager has ideals and ambitions of her own.

Aidan is a fresh-faced Harvard grad drawn to New Orleans by the possibility of bring
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Bloomsbury Press (first published February 19th 2013)
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Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education

The greatest weakness of the current literature addressing educational reform is its level of abstraction. "How Children Succeed," for instance, is an excellent primer on emerging theories of what allows children to be successful in school and in life, but its personal narratives are necessarily limited and largely devoted to the researchers who are developing these theories. Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" provides a strong macro-view of the arc of schoo
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
I'm no education expert, but this book was well written, informative, and interesting. Efforts to improve New Orleans public schools after Katrina and with right-leaning charter school policies made for a most fascinating look at an effort that has been pushed around the country where conservatives gain power. In places here and there, I hope we recover useful data that objectively analyzes how these approaches work. Sadly, ideologues of any stripe never admit mistakes, but open-minded folk can ...more
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, education
Fascinating to read about a world you're working in -- and to know some of the characters in the book.
Carr's reporting is terrific -- all the scenes at Sci Academy, O. Perry Walker, and KIPP Renaissance (and behind the scenes with the characters from those schools) were revealing and powerful. I think the book is vital reading for folks interested in what is happening here in New Orleans.
All the same, there are places where I disagree with Carr's analysis and thinks she shades things in ways ot
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I saw this author speak at a conference and have wanted to read the book for over a year. I'm glad I finally got around to it. This is one of the most balanced books I've read on the subject of public education reform and charter schools. I also appreciated that Carr was honest from the start...this whole fight is really about race. We so rarely talk about race when we talk about education and I'm so glad Carr wasn't afraid to broach a subject that can be so intimidating.

I also agreed with a pr
Nov 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, for all of its grittiness, embodies the struggles and the underlying heartache and hope that I have a difficult time putting into words when people ask me about teaching in New Orleans post Katrina. Sarah Carr goes beyond the human story though to give an accurate and objective portrayal of the political climate of education reform.
Nicole Jennelle
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My friends often ask me why my students are so low academically, or why there is so much violence in the city, why teaching is so hard, or why kids act wild in classes. The complexities of poverty are rooted in hundreds of years of racism and classism, and it's hard to just give an elevator answer to all these questions. There are so many reasons. This book does the complexity of the answer justice.

After teaching in three inner-cities across America, I am about to start a second year in New Orl
May 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A readable book, in the lines of a fair number of recent non-fiction works on the social realities and stories of New Orleans. Has the feel of "Zeitoun" or "Nine Lives" in its focus on personalized stories of individuals. Only in this context, the central topic around which the stories revolve is the post-Katrina reform of the New Orleans education system. While the book is probably a worthwhile primer on the charter school movement in New Orleans post Katrina, and the aspirations and debates su ...more
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful, thorough, dedicated work of journalism on a subject that is all too often talked about only in generalities and uninformed assumptions. Particularly interesting to someone who recently graduate from a public high school that rewrote its charter during my time there- I was constantly realizing the background behind new rules and strategies being implemented- and also as an incoming student at Tulane University, an elite, mostly white, wealthy university right next to the disintegrati ...more
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book surprised me with how interesting I found it. The thing I liked best was the way the author managed to make all the players seem human on the page (even those who I really disagree with in policy, like the Sci Academy founder) and make their motives understandable, without seeming to take sides. After reading, I'm still not sure where Sarah Carr herself would fall on the many debates the ed world is gripped with -- and that's a good thing. She raises a LOT of really powerful and import ...more
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, nola
I think Hope Against Hope should be a must-read for every adult New Orleanian and every educator nationwide. Sarah Carr explores post-Katrina education reform in New Orleans through narratives and humanizes the complex issues (race, class, infrastructure, economy, politics, crime, etc.) that impact learning in America.
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Finally a book that gets more than two stars from me! Seriously, though, this is an excellent book. It's well-written and, specifically, that means it strives to be perfectly objective (it reminded me a bit of Behind the Beautiful Forevers in that way). The only quibble I might have is that Carr tried to organize the book in what turns out to be a forced way, and so sometimes the same stories get told twice, or we're deep into one anecdote/analysis and suddenly Carr makes a left turn into someon ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read this one on the recommendation of a close friend who is a school psychologist in New Orleans. I love how balanced Carr's approach is -- she manages to cover a variety of different schools and a variety of different stakeholders/participants without doing the kind of inappropriate direct comparisons that you often hear during discussions of urban education and education reform. Her research is really thorough and the writing is excellent. I appreciate that while Carr makes suggestions for ed ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent but for a book with hope in its title it feels very dispiriting. Charting the waters between charters and traditional schools/teachers unions is a tough journalistic task these days, but Carr does a nice job not appearing to take sides in her portrayal of a student/family, a principal, and a teacher in different schools in New Orleans. Instead, what's presented feels like heartbreak after heartbreak. Well meaning people trying to exist in or change a series of schools and behaviors tha ...more
Bill Tierney
Dec 09, 2013 rated it liked it
I was oddly unaffected by this book. Normally, I resonate to people’s stories struggling against all odds. Sarah Carr’s 316 page narrative chronicles the challenges that primarily three individuals face in schools in post-Katrina New Orleans. There is a 14 year old who we want to see succeed. There is an ambitious, idealistic, TFA teacher who has a new interpretation on what it takes to succeed and bring about reform. And then there is an old-time educator who faces the daily challenges of not s ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
New Orleans became a testing ground for educational theories after Katrina's devastation led the the firing of the New Orleans school system teachers and the educational system was rebuilt with many outside run charter schools. Even traditional schools had to measure their progress by an increasing number of tests. The author follows the stories of a teacher at a charter school, a principal at a traditional school, and a family whose daughters attend charter schools to tell a story of both succe ...more
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sarah Carr’s “Hope Against Hope” unravels the complexity of the problems that exist in New Orleans’ schools and the educational reform that takes place after Hurricane Katrina by bringing to light some of the very real issues seen by students and educators. The overhaul of the school system in New Orleans may have improved test scores, but does this mean that the students are better off? There are still other problems that Carr highlights, such as outside factors of neighborhoods in poverty, pre ...more
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In the process of reading this very insightful book, and I cannot put it down. I was a sophomore in high school when Katrina destroyed so much of the city--not just in the physical sense, but lives, families, and the Joy of the city. I graduated from college and went on to teach in a public school and witnessed firsthand the educational inequality problem. What I love about this book is the consistent reference to a holistic approach to solving education--it takes not only great teachers with hi ...more
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
this is a well-written, engaging piece of education journalism about the rise of charter schools in post-Katrina new orleans. i was most impressed by her even-handedness throughout the book when she discussed the controversy and deep divides around charter schools. i thought she presented both sides of the issue fairly, and let the stories of the students, parents, teachers, and administrators speak for themselves (as best she could) - and, the most poignant insights came when those stories illu ...more
Apr 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Carr adeptly puts faces and stories to the charter versus traditional school debate. Her three subjects jump off the page to the point that you cannot help but think about them when not reading. More importantly these stories illuminate the pain points of the school system in New Orleans. Her unbiased perspective was refreshing. By noting that pre-Katrina schools did not produce exemplary academic results yet mostly white charter schools have reduced New Orleans' black middle class (made up of m ...more
Odessa Armstrong
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The debate over urban education in America, crystallized in New Orleans, speaks to broad, deeply rooted tensions in our country over what the civil rights movement should look like in the twenty-first century and who should lead it. It speaks to fundamental disagreements over how the push for racial equality should proceed, at a time when the end goal remains as elusive as ever. And it speaks to a nationwide loss of trust- in our public institutions, each other, and ourselves. At its heart, thi ...more
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very interesting look at education reform in New Orleans. Focuses on three schools and three points of view: a principal, a teacher and a student. The books flows easily between these three stories and the author did a great job at really allowing the reader to get inside the joy and frustrations, the successes and failures of each of the main characters.

Probably the only negative thing I can say about the book is that the author doesn't have the ability to see into the future to tell me what ha
Samuel Lubell
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, education
Interesting account of three new charter schools in New Orleans shortly after Katrina. I thought it did an admirable job of showing both the strengths and problems of charters. In particular, the KIPP charters seemed to push people into higher positions after just a couple years teaching and the book describes how the teachers and administrators mean well and want to help the kids but don't always know what they should do to help. And the problems of New Orleans seem overwhelming. The author is ...more
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Great for anyone interested in New Orleans, education in general, teaching, and the pros and cons of the charter school movement. You can tell that Carr is fond of the three subjects she follows (the teacher, the principal, and the student) but she does a good job of impartially discussing the pros and cons of the charter school movement and of how the education system in New Orleans has changed since Katrina. She also effectively intersperses history and policy discussions with the stories of h ...more
Kate Lombardi
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My son, a fifth grade teacher at a charter school in New Orleans, recommended this book to me. In it, the author tackles the often politically fraught topic of school reform by following three story lines: a family in NOLA trying to get their 14 year old daughter a good education, a young, dedicated but often overwhelmed teacher, and a veteran NOLA school administrator. We hear about all of their experiences and struggles, and through the various perspectives, the author gives a balanced account ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thought I wasn't going to read this book since I've read so many of these but then realized that I knew the author in the real world and so couldn't resist. I think the book does a remarkable job of getting past the vitriol and politics and giving us detailed looks at real people just trying to do their best and all the social, cultural, historical elements that led them all to be where they are now. It's a good overview of an incredibly complicated landscape, written with a lot of compassion ...more
Nicki Anselmo
Sep 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As a New Orleans public school teacher, I went in a little skeptical as to what Carr's stance would be, often folks are on one extreme or the other in their views of charter schools and on the transformation of New Orleans' schools in the last decade. Carr provides a very fact-based, balanced view on the history and progress of New Orleans schools. I especially loved the national and local historical context she brought to her writing.
Rona Simmons

Nonfiction account of the rebuilding of schools in New Orleans after Katrina. As told through a student and her mother, a teacher, and a principal. Provokes a number of questions on the topic of education of inner city underprivileged children, including whether or not the emphasis ought to be in getting all of these children into college and what the role of the school system is in raising children vis a vis their parents.
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Can young white people save the failing schools in New Orleans? The answer is maybe, kinda sorta, probably not. I thought the biggest success story of the book, which followed a charter school teacher, a student at KIPP, and a principal at a more traditional public school, was that of the principal--she fought for her school, didn't get bogged down by data and the ridiculously misguided laser focus on just getting to college, and made meaningful connections within her community.
Sep 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in New Orleans schools, to anyone in a privileged position trying to help those less privileged and to anyone interested in our current educational system. Reading nonfiction is usually a bit of a struggle for me and I found this book an easy, very engaging read. Thought provoking.
Audrey Schiefelbein
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Trying to get a background on what's going on in my girl's future home and the state of education in the area. This was very informative and heartbreaking read. I couldn't put it down. The writer is a newspaper journalist for the Times Picayune and doesn't demonize any particular group or program. She just points out the positives and negatives of all. A must read for Brooke before she goes.
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