America’s most ambitious public school privatization venture continued to take shape in Philadelphia last week, as a state panel divvied up control of 42 failing schools to private companies, nonprofit organizations, and two universities.
Edison Schools Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit manager of public schools, emerged with the greatest share of schools with 20—though that’s 25 fewer than it had requested.
The multifaceted plan calls for an additional 28 troubled schools to be reconstituted or transformed into charter schools and so-called independent schools.
With the future of those 70 struggling elementary and middle schools and thousands of students in the balance, the fractious nature of the effort is escalating.
On April 17, a group of students linked arms to block Philadelphia’s school administration building, forcing the state panel that is directing the district overhaul to meet elsewhere. And concerns about the viability of the sweeping changes led to the state panel’s first significant split.
The two mayorally appointed members of the five-member School Reform Commission, Sandra Dungee Glenn and Michael Masch, opposed the plan. They said they believed that the three members tapped by Pennsylvania Gov. Mark S. Schweiker, a Republican, were overly optimistic about what could be accomplished in time for next fall’s school opening.
Ms. Glenn and Mr. Masch, instead, supported the transfer of only 25 schools to the education management providers.
“To undertake this massive transformation in a really brief time period, ... we don’t believe it can be done,” said Debra Kahn, the education adviser for Mayor John F. Street, a Democrat.
But Edison spokesman Adam Tucker said that the city has too many low-performing schools for the governance panel to limit the scope of the push to retool the school system.
“This is a seminal moment for school reform, particularly large urban school reform, and Edison is very proud to be in the center of it,” he added.
Private companies received 28 schools to lead, while nonprofit organizations are set to oversee 14 schools. In addition to the 20 schools Edison is set to manage, Victory Schools, also from New York City, will run three, while Chancellor Beacon Academies of Miami has five schools.
Of the nonprofit organizations, Philadelphia’s Temple University will oversee five schools, followed by Foundations Inc., a Mount Laurel, N.J.-based nonprofit organization, which will have four schools. Universal Companies, a Philadelphia nonprofit community-redevelopment organization, was assigned two schools.
Although the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia did not formally apply as an education management provider, Carey Dearnley, the commission spokeswoman, said officials there had always expressed an interest in the process. The panel tapped the University of Pennsylvania to operate three schools.
In addition, four schools will be converted to charter status, five will be designated independent schools, and 19 will be reconstituted—meaning that their entire teaching and administrative staffs could be replaced. Ms. Dearnley said the commission hadn’t decided whether private companies or community groups would help operate that group of 28 schools. Mr. Tucker said Edison is interested in managing those schools.
From the start of the state takeover of the Philadelphia school system last December, the overhaul of the 200,000-student district has been uneasy at best. Dissension has reverberated across the city following every commission announcement.
Earlier this month, after the state panel identified what it deemed the 75 lowest-performing city schools for overhaul, staff members at some of the schools balked at their inclusion in the group. “Phila. Panel Taps Temple University, Others to Run Troubled Schools,” April 17, 2002.
The commission reviewed its list and, upon closer examination, discovered that some schools’ significant one-year gains were overlooked in the original analysis, Ms. Dearnley said. Five schools were dropped from the list, leaving the 70 schools affected by the latest announcement. Ms. Dearnley noted, however, that commission Chairman James E. Nevels also wants to include high schools in the process.
Teachers, meanwhile, appear to be growing leery of the groundbreaking effort, with 416 teachers indicating they plan to retire or resign at the end of the school year—a third more than last year, according to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Barbara Goodman, a spokeswoman for the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said the city’s teachers feel disrespected.
A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week as Groups Named to Lead Dozens Of Ailing Phila. Schools