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Published in Print: May 13, 1998, as AFT Report Disputes Claims by Edison Project

AFT Report Disputes Claims by Edison Project

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Achievement results in the Edison Project's schools are less impressive than the private, for-profit company presents them, according to an analysis of testing data by the American Federation of Teachers.

The teachers' union, a longtime critic of the privatization of public education, contends that Edison emphasizes, and sometimes overstates, the academic gains at a few of its schools while playing down negative or inconclusive data from others.

"On the whole, Edison results were mediocre," the report says in referring to one set of reading studies in the company's first four schools.

The New York City-based Edison Project is operating 25 schools in eight states this year, either as charter schools or in partnership with public school districts.

Edison officials moved quickly last week to respond to the AFT analysis.

"It is a one-sided, biased attack on Edison portrayed as an objective report," said John E. Chubb, the company's executive vice president for curriculum, instruction, and assessment. "They spend 90 pages trying to tear down results that are pretty clear-cut."

But F. Howard Nelson, the union's senior associate director of research and the report's principal author, said, "I think we are not only fair, but we gave Edison every benefit of the doubt on issues of dispute in the report."

While the AFT and the National Education Association have long been skeptical about for-profit management of public schools, the Edison Project employs union teachers in its partnership schools and has so far received somewhat friendlier treatment than companies such as Education Alternatives Inc.

That company, now called the Tesseract Group Inc., faced relentless union criticism when it managed public schools in Baltimore and Hartford, Conn.

Questionable Data

The AFT study disputes several claims made by the Edison Project, particularly a statement by company President Benno C. Schmidt Jr. that was formerly included on Edison's World Wide Web site.

Mr. Schmidt said the early results of the Edison Project are "uniformly positive in those studies where we can compare the achievement of Edison students to similar students in other public schools or measure the current performance of Edison students against their past achievement."

In fact, the AFT report says, "few independent studies of results in Edison schools exist."

The report attacks the Edison Project on several fronts.

It says the company "cuts corners" by hiring more beginning, lower-paid teachers, limiting special education to children who can be taught easily in regular classrooms, and "skimping" on the implementation of Success for All, a reading program adopted by Edison that is also being used in hundreds of low-income schools across the country.

Some Edison Project schools lack the full complement of reading tutors called for in the Success for All design, the report says. And none of Edison's schools achieves at the average level of all Success for All schools, it says, even though the larger cohort of Success for All schools has a higher percentage of low-income students.

The report says the Edison Project provided special education to only 7 percent of its students, compared with the 12 percent of public school students nationwide who receive such services. The company may be screening out difficult-to-teach students with serious disabilities to save money, the report says.

'Compelling Margins'

The report says Edison's student-assessment program is sound on paper, but in practice "the company sometimes presents its data in ways that tend to exaggerate test scores, and it often ignores comparisons to other schools, students, tests, and years that would render results less impressive."

For example, the report says, Edison overstates some of the achievement results at its most successful school, the Dodge-Edison Elementary School in Wichita, Kan.

Edison has touted progress at Dodge-Edison by comparing it against national norms. But when compared with other neighborhood and magnet schools in Wichita, the improvements at the school are less impressive, the AFT says.

In a 22-page, point-by-point response, the Edison Project contends the union ignored data that did not support its conclusions.

For example, the company's response says, the AFT ignored new results from the Kansas State Assessment showing that Dodge-Edison students outperformed other Wichita students by "compelling margins."

"Edison has two-year trend data for three of its first four schools," the company's response says. "The trends are consistently, unmistakably, and sometimes impressively up."

The report, "Student Achievement in Edison Schools: Mixed Results in an Ongoing Enterprise," is available on the World Wide Web at www.aft.org/research/edisonproject/index.htm or by calling the AFT at (202) 879-4458.

Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 5

Web Resources
  • The Edison Project Web site contains a mission statement as well as links to various Edison schools nationwide.
  • Read the American Federation of Teachers' Winter 1997 "privatization alert" which tracks privatization trends nationwide, including the efforts of the Edison Project.
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