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Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education

reviewed by Nandan Jha

coverTitle: Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education
Author(s): Noliwe Rooks
Publisher: The New Press, New York
ISBN: 1620972484, Pages: 256, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

In Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education, Noliwe Rooks argues that about half of the government’s trillion-dollar spending on public education has become tied to efforts to restructure public education through choice-based privatization solely for profit-making purposes. She aligns this trend with increasing segregation in communities with low-quality public schools predominantly serving students of color from poor households. She terms the coexistence of these two related phenomena “segrenomics.” This key argument is the thesis of her book:

Through a series of federally proposed and supported initiatives purportedly aimed at addressing race- and class-based educational inequality in urban areas, the United States is in the process of unraveling public education for Native American, Black, Latino, and poor youth in rural and urban areas while at the same time allowing others to engage in the plunder of dollars, and of individual futures as well… As a result, this moment is as significant for making clear the twenty-first-century relationship between race, citizenship, economics, and segregation as was the twentieth-century moment when Brown v. Board of Education was decided. (p. 20)

Rooks brings into focus several socio-political constructs and contexts, all with roots in historical racial injustice. She argues (and research confirms) that racial and economic integration has the potential to eliminate the persistent achievement gaps between black and white students (Rothstein, 2015). She also notes the empirical evidence which shows that school choice’s capacity to bolster student integration and achievement is limited at best.

In spite of these shortcomings, however, there are economic and political motivations for the continued support of school choice policies. The current movement for the privatization of public schools is being led by powerful philanthropic organizations such as Teach for America, Edition Learning, and Students for Educational Reforms. Rooks argues that these organizations have historical counterparts that operated with similar principles, and she comprehensively documents the striking similarities between this current crop of philanthropic organizations and those of the Jim Crow era. Like their predecessors, she argues, these organizations demonstrate a keen interest in the education of poor black children, but offer solutions that are quite different from those that have worked for privileged white children.

As a ray of hope, Rooks finds some evidence of pushback coming from communities affected by failed market-driven educational policies. In 2014, for example, hundreds of groups including the NAACP petitioned Congress to abolish the use of standardized tests in public education. Additionally, Rooks documents how college graduates who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds are trying to bring change to public school classrooms. Although most often trained by Teach for America, these teachers differ in their approach to teaching; instead of simply teaching for tests, they are able to use their backgrounds to relate to students and facilitate learning.          

The key conclusion in Cutting School is that problems in public education can only be addressed by pursuing policies that foster economic and racial integration, and that privatization is not the answer.



Rothstein, R. (2015). The racial achievement gap, segregated schools, and segregated neighborhoods: A constitutional insult. Race and Social Problems, 7(1), 21–30.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22375, Date Accessed: 1/19/2019 5:55:11 PM

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