In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, philanthropists and New Orleans education reformers saw an unprecedented chance to completely restructure a failing school system. As a result, New Orleans has become the only city in the United States where charter schools have completely replaced public schools. It’s the most dramatic test case for the claims of the self-styled, traditional school choice movement—a nationwide push, led by a slew of major philanthropists and by current secretary of education Betsy DeVos, to privatize education and treat schooling as a business like any other. As Andrea Gabor documents in the November issue of Harper’s Magazine, the experiment is not producing the desired results. The skewed incentives of the portfolio model, which stakes school survival largely on standardized test scores, have caused many schools to treat students like prisoners while deliberately discouraging or underserving children with special needs. In districts where charters and public schools coexist, competitive pressure and poor funding can make public schools dysfunctional “dumping grounds” for harder-to-teach children, victims of a system that values profitability over community needs.
In this episode, web editor Violet Lucca speaks with Andrea Gabor—author of After the Education Wars and the Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York—about the reality of school choice, the mind-set of Big Philanthropy, and the often-neglected tipping point at which charter schools begin harming nearby public schools.