Overall, Carr, like Berler, paints a discouraging picture, often with considerable eloquence. In New Orleans high schools (as at Brookside), the relentless prepping for standardized exams—in this case, the ACT and various AP tests—distorts the curriculum. And the increasing federal stake in education, including President Obama’s “Race to the Top” pro-charter school reforms, is hardly a panacea. New Orleans, like other cities with too many poor people, is a place where even teachers who want to teach and students who want to learn can’t necessarily overcome the chaos, deprivation, and despair.

And yet, even now, there are victories; there is, as Carr’s title avers, hope—in individuals if not in the faltering system.

Disdaining the lure of higher paying professions, Aidan Kelly works 80 or more hours a week, answering students’ homework questions by phone well into the evenings.

“Don’t be like me. Be a little better,” Raquel, who cleans hotel rooms, tells her daughter Geraldlynn, who aspires to college and will probably make it.

And the inspiring Mary Laurie surely will keep fighting for her kids—until the last beleaguered administrator turns off the last light.

 

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Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a CJR contributing editor.