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Published in Print: May 3, 2000, as Edison To Explore Expansion Into Teacher Preparation

Edison To Explore Expansion Into Teacher Preparation

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Edison Schools Inc. will announce this week that it is launching an ambitious research effort into the viability of opening its own teacher education colleges.

The foray into teacher preparation would be aimed at helping the company—the nation's largest private manager of public schools—guarantee a steady supply of new teachers, Edison executives said in an interview last week. The teachers' colleges could take any of several forms, such as affiliations with existing colleges and universities, free-standing company-owned campuses, and courses offered over the Internet.

Meanwhile, Edison is launching a second research effort into adapting its management model for districts of 5,000 students or fewer. Edison would manage not only all of a district's schools but also districtwide services such as teacher recruitment, curriculum support, and financial systems.

"These are research-and-development efforts," said Christopher Whittle, Edison's president and chief executive officer. "We have an idea of what this all will emerge as, but we're not going to say today exactly what will emerge."

The company has appointed Deborah McGriff, an executive who has led charter school development across the country for Edison, as the president of Edison Teacher Colleges.

"We're responding to our [school district and charter school] partners who say there is much to be gained in terms of improving the quality of teachers," said Ms. McGriff, a former superintendent of the Detroit public schools.

The company is already pilot-testing online professional-development programs for its current teachers in such areas as English as a second language and special education, said John E. Chubb, Edison's executive vice president and chief education officer.

The company will study the possibility of offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees; students would pay tuition competitive with that of similar institutions. Edison might guarantee employment in its schools for Edison Teacher College students who met certain graduation standards, executives said.

Allen Glenn, the dean of the University of Washington's college of education, called the move "a logical extension of what's happening out there" in for-profit efforts in teacher training.

Responding in part to a looming shortfall of qualified teachers, other for-profit concerns such as Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and the University of Phoenix have already begun to offer teacher-training programs. ("Md. Picks Edison To Run Three Baltimore Schools," March 29, 2000.)

"If Edison is going to compete, and it's a tight teacher market, it has to say, 'Let's think about preparing our own teachers,'" said Mr. Glenn, who chairs a task force examining the changing landscape of teacher training for the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.

Small Districts Eyed

This academic year, New York City-based Edison is managing 79 traditional public schools and charter schools, serving some 38,000 students. It employs nearly 1,600 classroom teachers.

As for its second research initiative, the company named Kathy Hamel, who has led its contract efforts in the Western states, as executive vice president for whole-district partnerships. In February, Edison won its first contract to manage an entire district, the 1,500-student Inkster, Mich., school system.

Mr. Whittle pointed out that some 13,000 U.S. school districts have enrollments of no more than 5,000 students, representing a huge opportunity for Edison in smaller systems.

The new model would allow for a total partnership with such districts, said Mr. Whittle, who shied away from the term "takeovers."

The whole-district model also brings to mind the ill-fated effort of Education Alternatives Inc. in the early 1990s to manage the entire Hartford, Conn., district. EAI, now a charter-school-management company known as Tesseract Group Inc., lost the Hartford contract after squabbles with the district and the local teachers' union over financial issues.

Mr. Whittle noted that, unlike EAI's early efforts, Edison would focus on small districts, not large, troubled urban districts. Second, Edison would have about 10 years of school management experience under its belt by the time the model was ready to go, by fall 2003.

"And we've proved we can work with the unions," Mr. Whittle said.

But Sandra Feldman, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wasn't impressed by Edison's proposal, saying it is "more akin to a company training program than a plan to raise the quality of teachers entering the profession."

"Edison really hasn't proven itself yet," she added in a statement. "Why are they reaching into new areas of business?"

Vol. 19, Issue 34, Page 11

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