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Published in Print: September 6, 2000, as Companies, Nonprofits Jump at Chance To Manage N.Y.C. Schools

Companies, Nonprofits Jump at Chance To Manage N.Y.C. Schools

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Fifteen companies and nonprofits are vying to manage some of New York City's most troubled schools in what could be one of the nation's largest experiments in privatizing public education.

Under a wide-reaching plan unveiled this summer by Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy, as many as 50 chronically low-performing schools could be operating as privately managed charter schools next fall.

City school board members were reviewing the various management proposals last week, a spokeswoman for the board said, and they will likely pick one or more vendors and match them with schools early this fall. The chosen companies or organizations would then have to engage teachers, parents, and the community in the process. Before a school can be converted to charter status, state law requires a majority vote of the parents whose children attend it.

New York is not the first city to turn to the private sector for help in running its schools, and the jury is still out on whether such an approach pays off academically. ("Report Card on For-Profit Industry Still Incomplete," Dec. 15, 1999.)

But the sheer size of the effort in the 1.1 million-student district, experts say, may mark a turning point in the business of managing schools for profit.

"It will certainly put a lot of theories about private management to the test," said Janelle T. Scott, an assistant director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Edison in Running

Among the responses to the chancellor's request for proposals, mailed in July to more than 100 education-management firms and nonprofit organizations, is a sweeping bid from the New York City-based Edison Schools Inc.

Already the country's biggest school-management company, overseeing more than 100 public schools, the for-profit Edison is proposing to take over 45 of the failing schools by the fall of 2003.

The company offered the city a performance-based contract that would allow it to take over 12 elementary schools in 2001 and three middle schools the following year. Edison would run the rest only if the students at the first 12 schools exceeded the standardized-test scores of their peers at similar schools by 20 percent.

Other prominent school-management companies that threw their hats into the ring last month include Mosaica Education Inc., also of New York; National Heritage Academies of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Advantage Schools Inc. of Boston; and Nobel Learning Communities Inc. of Media, Pa.

Boys Harbor Inc. is one of several smaller, local organizations contending for a contract. The nonprofit organization runs Boys Harbor Arts and Sciences Charter School and until recently was helping to manage a city public school serving grades K-6, said Alicia McDow, the group's director of special projects.

All 50 failing schools are on the state's list of "schools under registration review" and are part of the special Chancellor's District. By allowing them to be converted to charter schools, city and state education officials would free their new operators from many of the state and local regulations that govern the management of regular public schools.

Vol. 20, Issue 1, Page 5

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