After Hurricane Katrina and the burst levees in New Orleans, the aging economist Milton Friedman acted very quickly to write an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal which called for the wrecked state schools in the region to be replaced by charter schools.
One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was the late Milton Friedman, grand guru of unfettered capitalism and credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hyper-mobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, "Uncle Miltie", as he was known to his followers, found the strength to write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. "Most New Orleans schools are in ruins," Friedman observed, "as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity."
Friedman's radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans' existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions.
As I read it, charter schools operate on a voucher system, much like the Swedish education system that some Torys in the UK wish to bring into get shot of state school that fuck up English kids education. Basically parents get vouchers from the state equal in value to how much is spent on kids education and they get to choose which school to take their kid to. So the successful schools get more money, and failing schools wither on the vine.
On reading The Shock Doctrine published in 2007, I thought it would be neat to check up how those new charter schools in New Orleans are doing, are they providing a better standard of education for the kids?
There was a mixed bag of results from google that I'll need to spend more time figuring out.
Anyhoo, on Radio4 this morning, on the Today Programme, there was a some chap saying that civil servants and big cheeses in the public sector should be forced to send their kids to state school rather than opting out and going to the private sector to get the best education money can buy.
An interesting sentiment, damning folk to have ill-educated kids. But then I remembered something I'd read from checking out New Orleans charter schools. There was a piece in the New Orleans CityBusiness from March, Quality of charter school system has New Orleans parents opting out of private institutions, about how folk were taking their kids out of private schools and sending them to the state's charter schools, doing in effect what the chap on the Today Programme wanted, but by choice rather than by government compulsion.
Gaudin said her decision to move her 14-year-old son Remy Gaudin to Lusher Charter School from Stuart Hall School for Boys initially made good civic sense. But now it gives her family a previously unheard of level of financial freedom.
“When you are looking at $20,000 tuition a year for some of these private high schools, that’s money that we want to earmark for college,” she said. “And when we know that the education opportunity is equal and in many ways better, it doesn’t make any sense, economic or just plain common sense.”
While Gaudin readily admits that a handful of high performing public schools did exist in Orleans before the state takeover of failing schools and the explosion of charter schools, she said the relatively small number of public schools able to provide the type of education afforded by a private school made paying thousands of dollars for tuition each year worth the expense.
“The education that we’re getting now in the public school system is outstanding,” she said. “It’s easily comparable and in many ways better than the education we were getting in the private institutions.”