Education

Reports Paint Opposite Pictures Of Edison Achievement

By Mark Walsh — March 05, 2003 3 min read
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Two new reports paint starkly different portraits of achievement in schools managed by Edison Schools Inc.

The “Fifth Annual Report on School Performance,” is available from Edison Schools.

The “Update on Student Achievement for Edison Schools Inc.,” is available from the American Federation of Teachers. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The New York City-based company released an analysis last week contending that 94 of its schools dramatically outperform 1,100 comparable schools in communities where Edison operates.

But the American Federation of Teachers, an outspoken critic of private management of public schools, says that its own review of data for 80 Edison schools shows that while schools typically improved modestly in their first year under the company, they achieve well below the average of comparable schools in the states were Edison runs campuses.

The two reports are the latest salvos in a long-running research battle over Edison achievement. Both sides acknowledge their self-interest, but argue that their respective analyses are the proper way to examine the issue.

Edison says 79 of the 94 schools in its report are achieving at levels above where they started when the company took control, at various times over the last seven years. The Feb. 28 report says Edison schools have averaged a gain of 4.4 percentiles a year on national norm-referenced tests since 1995, compared with 2.9 average percentile gains for other district schools where it operates.

And measured against comparable schools, Edison’s scores on norm-referenced tests have increased an average 5.5 percentiles a year, compared with 2.7 percentile gains for the other schools. The company says that it has resisted such comparisons in its past reports because one goal of clients who hire Edison is to stimulate competition that can help all of a district’s schools.

The company also contends its schools are helping to reduce the minority achievement gap. In schools with African-American enrollments of 90 percent or more, it says, test scores are increasing by 4.4 percentiles annually, compared with 3.1 percentiles for district schools.

“To be making these gains while serving an ever increasingly disadvantaged population ... is evidence that our model is working as promised,” said John E. Chubb, Edison’s chief education officer and the author of the report.

The AFT presents a far less rosy view.

For its report, released Feb. 17, the union compared achievement data from 2000-01 in 80 Edison schools with some 3,500 comparable schools from a database maintained by the Washington-based Education Trust, as well as from California and Texas state data.

The report found that Edison schools typically improved modestly after a poor first year under the company, but that achievement fell below that of comparable schools in their states. In schools managed by Edison since before 1998-99, the average statistical score in mathematics and reading achievement in 2000-01 was 4.3 on a scale of 10. Schools in the comparison group average 5.5 in both subjects.

“Some evidence supports Edison’s contentions that school performance improves the longer a school has been managed by the company, but even Edison’s older schools still rank at subpar levels,” says the AFT report.

Mr. Chubb criticized the union’s report, saying that, among other problems, its group of comparable schools was not scientifically valid because it went beyond the districts where Edison is operating.

“This is an unscientific, partisan attack,” he said.

‘Picking and Choosing’?

But F. Howard Nelson, an AFT researcher and a co-author of the union report, said a quick review of Edison’s analysis suggested to him that the company continues to selectively cite test results from its schools that show achievement at the company’s schools in the best light.

“You have to reach the conclusion that they are picking and choosing tests,” Mr. Nelson said.

Edison, which manages 150 schools serving 82,000 students this school year, has contracted with the RAND Corp., the Santa Monica, Calif.-based research organization, to do an independent study of its achievement. While RAND provided input into last week’s report, the organization’s study is not scheduled to be released until summer 2004.

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