Urban Education

Philadelphia Cheers Better Test Scores

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Excited over a promising batch of test scores, Philadelphia school leaders last week praised the six outside managers that have been running some of the city’s worst-performing schools.

What a difference 2½ years can make.

In January 2002, the school district was newly under state control and hot with controversy over a plan to let education management organizations, or EMOs, run dozens of its 264 schools.

Many district and community leaders approached the partnerships with skepticism or outright opposition. The EMOs, which include for-profit companies, nonprofit groups, and universities, endured an onslaught of criticism.

But all that melted into a praisefest on Aug. 24, when district and EMO representatives gathered to announce city students’ 2004 performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the state’s accountability tests.

From 2003 to 2004, the city boosted the total number of schools making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act from 58 to 160, nearly a threefold increase. Of the 45 EMO-managed schools, 23 made such progress this year, compared with just seven last year.

While improvements were not stellar in all areas, and the district overall failed to make AYP, the progress sparked a celebratory mood among leaders of the 190,000-student district.

James E. Nevels, the chairman of the state-and-city-appointed panel running the district, said the scores showed "the promise of the partnership management model." Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas praised the hard work of students and staff members.

Mr. Vallas said in a press release issued by Edison Schools Inc., which runs 20 Philadelphia schools, that Edison officials had "clearly demonstrated their ability to take on this challenge and make a critical contribution" to the district.

Some community activists weren’t ready to declare themselves fans of hiring EMOs.

"It could be that the mixed-management model works as long as it’s monitored," said Shelly D. Yanoff, the executive director of the advocacy group Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth. "We’ll see."

Vol. 24, Issue 1, Page 6

Published in Print: September 1, 2004, as Philadelphia Cheers Better Test Scores

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