Katrina Is the Biggest Challenge to Public Schools Since the Civil War, Say Historians

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School districts from Maine to Washington State were enrolling thousands of students from New Orleans and other devastated Gulf Coast districts yesterday in what experts said could become the largest student resettlement in the nation's history. Schools welcoming the displaced students must not only provide classrooms, teachers and textbooks, but under the terms of President Bush's education law must also almost immediately begin to raise their scholastic achievement unless some provisions of that law are waived. Historians said that those twin challenges surpassed anything that public education had experienced since its creation after the Civil War, including disasters that devastated whole school districts, like the San Francisco earthquake and the Chicago fire.

"In terms of school systems absorbing kids whose lives and homes have been shattered, what we're going to watch over the next weeks is unprecedented in American education," said Jeffrey Mirel, a professor of history and education at the University of Michigan.

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