Asee peer logo

Privatization of Public Education: Lessons from New Orleans for Engineering Education in K-12 and Beyond

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Social Responsibility and Social Justice II: From Classroom to Community

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Donna M. Riley Virginia Tech

visit author page

Donna Riley is Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.

visit author page


Janice L. Hall Virginia Tech

visit author page

I am a doctoral student in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. I have B.S. and M.S. degrees in biological and bio-medical engineering respectively. It was through my participation in extracurricular activities and my experience as a graduate teaching assistant I found my passion for engineering education. My research interests include broadening participation and a pathways to engineering for underrepresented student populations with a particular interest in veteran students.

visit author page

Download Paper |


As ASEE meets in New Orleans shortly following the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this special session seeks 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?

Riley, D. M., & Hall, J. L. (2016, June), Privatization of Public Education: Lessons from New Orleans for Engineering Education in K-12 and Beyond Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25956

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015