Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education

Univ. of Chicago. Jun. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9780226694641. pap. $20. ED
In 2005, the state of Louisiana replaced New Orleans’s traditional system of education with charter schools. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city; the school district was corrupt, test scores dismal, and the poverty rate high. Charters combine private school administration with government funding, eliminate teacher unions, and allow parents to choose which schools their children attend. Harris (economics, public education, Tulane Univ.) studied the New Orleans “miracle” and argues that “schooling really is a market,” with schools representing supply and families demand. Harris concludes that improved test scores and graduation rates show charters amount to a qualified success. He also concedes that these results are probably not reproducible elsewhere for two main reasons: a large influx of funding from philanthropists helped increase spending per student; and New Orleans had nowhere to go but up since it ranked so low nationwide.
VERDICT Harris effectively presents one side of an ongoing debate; readers interested in K–12 education and charter schools should look to researchers such as Bruce Baker and Andrea Gabor for more critical views of what charters accomplished in New Orleans.
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