Technology & Science
April 17th, 2012
By Anya Kamenetz
Seventy-one percent of New Orleans’s schoolchildren attend charter schools, a legacy of Katrina. While charters’ performance as measured by student test scores both nationwide and in the city has been mixed, they undeniably increase the local appetite for trying new educational ideas. “If you’re an edtech entrepreneur who wants to pilot an idea, you have the most efficient and smartest market in the country here,” says Matt Candler, CEO of 4.0 Schools. That’s because instead of a centralized bureaucracy, there are more than 40 schools making independent decisions on both hiring and procurement. Organizations like KIPP, Teach for America, and the Gates Foundation have established beachheads, drawing top teachers and fresh blood from all over the country. These are intersecting with a nascent startup scene dubbed “Silicon Bayou” to produce a hothouse of ideas to change education: for-profit and non-profit, from school redesigns to apps, often from younger, female entrepreneurs.
As Silicon Valley capital becomes increasingly interested in education—witness ur-angel investor Jason Calcanis holding his first ever LAUNCH event focusing on education, and Benchmark making its biggest ever seed investment in startup university Minerva—it’s a fair bet that a surprising number of successful companies will come from the Big Easy. “This is a place where you can do entrepreneurship AND do some amazing things for kids who really need it,” says Candler, who knows a bit about both. He opened schools all over the country for KIPP, did similar work for Joel Klein in New York City, and founded New Schools New Orleans, a program for aspiring school leaders.