Privatization of public education: Lessons from new orleans for engineering education in K-12 and beyond Conference

Riley, DM, Hall, JL. (2016). Privatization of public education: Lessons from new orleans for engineering education in K-12 and beyond . 2016-June

cited authors

  • Riley, DM; Hall, JL



  • As ASEE meets in New Orleans shortly following the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we seek to explore how disasters like Katrina reveal underlying systems of inequality, and create opportunities for the enactment of political and economic agendas that further ruling interests. What lessons can engineering education draw from the experiences of New Orleans schools after Katrina? What does it reveal to us about systems of inequality in engineering education, and how we might counter political and economic agendas that run counter to equity and social justice? Using a case study approach, we seek to analyze the effort to rebuild New Orleans public schools as private charters, and how this effort, part of a larger trend in market-driven school reform, funneled public resources to corporate education reformers. The public school system was decimated, with all personnel fired two weeks after the disaster, the powerful union comprising mostly black, mostly female employees, was dismantled, and infrastructure and resources were redirected to private out of town corporate school reformers, mostly white elites. The evidence from the charter experiment in New Orleans reveals that, to the extent that charters produced improved student performance, it did so only for the most elite students. Students with disabilities and students of color were systematically excluded from educational opportunities, impacting their educational outcomes and resulting in civil rights lawsuits. Moreover, the dissolution of neighborhood schools had devastating impacts beyond the classroom, as it meant a critical source of stability in students' and families' lives was removed just when they most needed to see familiar faces and sustain routines in the face of trauma. Because engineering has largely existed outside of K-12 curricula, many engineering education efforts in K-12 are already privatized in some way. From FIRST Robotics to Project Lead the Way, engineering education in K-12 is mostly not public, and the role of teachers in developing these experiences has to date been limited. In this paper we seek to show why this is a problem, particularly for creating pathways to engineering for students of low socioeconomic status and students of color. As the Next Generation Science Standards come online, and as more and more states adopt engineering standards for K-12 education, how can engineering education be delivered as part of public education, involving teachers and unions fully in the process? What kinds of redirection are needed to reverse the privatization that has already occurred?

publication date

  • June 26, 2016


  • 2016-June