The Greatest Education Lab

How Katrina opened the way for an influx of school reformers

Brian Smith for TIME

New Orleans School Reformers at S.J. Green Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Paul Vallas, the man who took over the troubled school systems of Chicago and then Philadelphia and upended them, stood before a crowd of New Orleans parents in a French Quarter courtyard earlier this summer and offered a promise. "This will be the greatest opportunity for educational entrepreneurs, charter schools, competition and parental choice in America," he said. Call it the silver lining: Hurricane Katrina washed away what was one of the nation's worst school systems and opened the path for energetic reformers who want to make New Orleans a laboratory of new ideas for urban schools .

Vallas is part...

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