A new film, The Experiment, looks at major changes in public education in New Orleans caused by the state takeover over of low-performing schools in the district immediately after Katrina, and the move to re-open and convert many of them to charter schools. The film depicts the successes so many of them are having and the opportunities that are being created for children who had little to no hope for their future just a few years ago.

Ben Lemoine is a Louisiana native who spent a number of years as a television journalist. Working in New Orleans after Katrina he was frustrated by the enormity of issues facing the city that needed to be explored and reported on in depth, while at the same time becoming almost numbed by the never ending string of murders, many of them involving young people, that he was being sent to cover for the nightly news.

One night, after reporting on the murder of a young boy who was shot twice in the back and found lying in the street, those two sensations seemed to come together. The result is a new documentary entitled The Experiment. It starts with the death of that youngster and the lack of opportunity for so many low-income children in New Orleans and tells the story of real kids in real families and the new sense of hope that’s taking hold in the city because of massive reforms in public education.

It dismantles the still pervasive myths that low-income families don’t care about the education of their children and that low-income children can’t be high achievers. It also clearly shows that despite successes, supporters of the status quo are still out there, they’re still active and they’re not going away. But it ends on a positive note of hope that leaves viewers rooting for these kids who want to be successful and believing that public education is not a hopeless cause.

Ironically, this very system that’s driving improvement in New Orleans public schools will likely come under heavy assault this year at the Legislature. Defenders of the old way of doing business are still out there trying to demonize the reforms and are expected to make an all-out effort to destroy the state Recovery School District and return schools to the systems that failed them in the first place.

They’ll do that by trotting out the same tired excuses about why reform won’t work, offer no new solutions, and somehow be okay with continuing to tolerate failure. CABL played a leading role in all the major reforms that have been driving recent improvements in public education. No reform is perfect and certainly adjustments should and have been made along the way as they are needed. But those fighting these efforts don’t want to tweak the reforms or adjust them. They want to dismantle them and go back to the comfort zone of the status quo. CABL will continue to fight to preserve what’s working in public education and push efforts that will accelerate improvement in our schools. This must become not just a CABL cause, but a public and business and moral cause that involves us all.

There is a touching scene in The Experiment where a teacher is giving out rewards to students who performed well in their studies that year. When they come up to get their prize, he tells them they must first run a circle around the classroom waving their hands in the air and shout “I believe, I believe, I believe.”

We have to believe, too, that children no matter what their socio-economic background can learn and succeed. And we must also believe that they are worth fighting for and say no to those vested special interests who are much happier putting the power and politics of the adults ahead of the future of the kids.

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