Edison Schools Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit manager of public schools, reported last week that many of its schools continue to raise test scores.
Officials with the New York City-based company said they were particularly pleased because the trends came as the proportion of Edison students receiving free- or reduced-price lunches rose to 70 percent in 2000-01, from 57 percent in 1998-99.
“The vast majority of our schools are making academic progress,” said John E. Chubb, the company’s chief education officer. “Looking at all grades and subjects, there is consistency supported by the large number of cases, and we think that’s important.”
Edison has received both praise and criticism for its efforts to revitalize troubled schools. Most recently, the company has been in the spotlight for its $2.7 million contract with Pennsylvania to review the 210,000-student Philadelphia schools.
Edison’s student-achievement statistics are perhaps more important today than ever, because some state and city leaders want Edison to run several public schools in Philadelphia. While such a contract would be lucrative for Edison, scores of privatization foes are fighting such a move.
“This simply updates the district on what we are doing,” Mr. Chubb added of the Oct. 1 report. “We think it lends credibility to our efforts.”
Currently, Edison manages 136 public schools in 53 cities and 22 states.
Of the 74 Edison-run schools that were open in the 2000-01 school year, and for which data were available, 62 schools, or 84 percent, were “achieving at higher levels than where they began.” The report was based mostly on results of standardized tests required by states or districts.
Eight of those schools, or 11 percent, showed declining overall performance, while four schools, or 5 percent, were unchanged.
On criterion-reference tests, which measure students against specific standards, Edison schools saw scores rise an average of 6 percentage points every year between 1995 and 2001, according to the report.
On norm- referenced tests, which gauge students’ performance relative to that of students nationwide, the schools raised the national percentile rank of students by an average of 5 percentile points each year during that time, the report says.
While the report offers school-by-school profiles, neither the schools’ individual scores nor the report’s aggregate results are compared with results for similar schools in their districts. And in some cases, schools that get a positive rating in the Edison report are on academic-watch lists or are slated to be closed.
“There are many urban public school systems where reform efforts are producing dramatic gains in student achievement,” said Nancy VanMeter, a privatization specialist with the 1 million-member American Federation of Teachers, which opposes private management of public schools. “We would very much be interested in seeing how Edison’s performance compares to other similar schools where they are operating.”
Such comparisons will be part of a three-year study by the RAND Corp., a think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif. Edison-watchers, however, likely will have to wait until 2004 for that independent assessment.
RAND, meanwhile, was part of the Oct. 1 Edison report. The research organization confirmed that Edison’s numbers were the same as those reported by the source states and districts.
“I think this is a very difficult thing to do. Interpreting any kind of data behind a school requires contextual information,” said Tom Glenman, the senior education policy adviser for RAND. "[Edison] does a straightforward tabulation.”
Still, he said, Edison deserves credit for making the results public. Not all school- management companies are willing to do so, he said.
The demographics of Edison schools are also changing, the company’s report says.
The proportion of African-American students in Edison-run schools jumped from 46 percent to 64 percent between 1998-99 and 2000-01. Hispanic enrollment fell from 22 percent to 17 percent in that time, while white enrollment dropped from 27 percent to 16 percent.
Scores or no scores, some school activists simply don’t trust privatization.
“What kind of decision would they make to turn a profit?” said Veronica Joyner, the founder of the Philadelphia advocacy group Parents United for Better Schools. “I do not think the kids of Philadelphia will benefit from that.”