Education Letter to the Editor

Education Entrepreneurs? Evidence Underwhelms

December 13, 2005 1 min read

To the Editor:

Regarding (“Education Entrepreneurs Seen as Facing Uphill Climb in U.S. Schools,” Nov. 30, 2005.):

Educational entrepreneurship in all its many forms deserves a fair chance to demonstrate that it can deliver on its ambitious claims for the more than 53 million children in America’s public schools, but the evidence to date is not encouraging.

Charter schools, Edison Schools Inc., and Teach for America have not been able to produce the across-the-board results that advocates have touted, according to scrutiny by independent investigators. In fact, these three centerpieces of entrepreneurship have been the center of controversy rarely seen in education.

Serving as a case in point was the unprecedented full-page ad taken out in The New York Times after a front-page story on Aug. 17, 2004, about the lower performance of charter school students compared with their regular public school counterparts. The ad was an attempt to discredit the results by claiming that the American Federation of Teachers had a hand in the study, when in fact it merely presented the results from the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Another instructive lesson was the bailout of Christopher Whittle’s Edison Schools by the Florida Retirement System, which paid $174 million in 2003 for the company after its stock had plummeted from $38 to as little as 14 cents a shpare. The irony of a school privatizer’s being rescued by a public pension fund was somehow lost in the reportage.

Finally, Teach for America participants have not been able to produce stronger student academic achievement than similarly experienced certified teachers, despite anecdotal reports made by principals. Stanford University released a study, whose lead author was Linda Darling-Hammond, in April at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting that called into question the favorable results of an earlier small-scale study by Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.