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BRIEFING PAPER:
Edison Schools, Inc. Privatization Earns a Failing Grade

Founded by media entrepreneur Chris Whittle in 1992, Edison Schools is a private, for-profit education management company. According to its Web site, the company partners with states, school districts and charter systems to run schools in 20 states and the United Kingdom.[1]Privatization proponents have hailed Edison as a private-sector savior of struggling public schools. Yet the company has failed schools, students, investors and taxpayers across the country.

Edison Schools, Inc. has proven to be a poor financial risk for schools, investors and taxpayers.

Edison lost hundreds of millions of dollars in its first 11 years and saw its stock drop to as low as 14 cents a share in 2002.[2] A controversial buyout by the Florida Retirement System (for public employees, including teachers) saved the company from collapse in 2003.[3]

Edison schools have proven to cost school districts far more than other public schools and frequently more than promised. Examples:

  • Dallas Independent School District: School district officials found in 2001 that their Edison-run schools would cost $5-20 million more than projected. The district terminated its contract with Edison in 2003.[4]
  • Tyler (Texas) Independent School District: District officials found that having Edison run one of its middle schools cost about a half million dollars more per year than it would have cost the district to operate the school on its own. Tyler ISD ended its contract with Edison in 2004.[5]
  • Sherman (Texas) Independent School District: The Sherman school district where two schools were among Edison’s first ventures let its contract with Edison expire in 1999. School district officials said they ended up paying the firm up to $1 million a year more than they had anticipated because of hidden costs in the Edison contract. As enrollment increased, Edison had also cut teaching and staff jobs to save on costs.[6]
  • Philadelphia: In 2002, days before classes were to start at 20 Edison schools in the city, the cash-strapped company sold off textbooks, computers, lab supplies and musical instruments. Student were left with decades-old textbooks and no equipment. Executives also moved their offices to the schools to save on office rent elsewhere. Jaws dropped when the company asked school board officials for permission to put students to work an hour each day in school offices, presumably without pay. The board refused.[7]

Edison Schools, Inc. underperform traditional public schools.

The only Texas school districts in which Edison ever won contracts Dallas ISD, Sherman ISD, Tyler ISD and Southwest ISD (San Antonio) and numerous other school districts across the country have all severed ties with the company because Edison schools underperformed district-run schools. This has happened even though the Edison model calls for longer school days, extended school years and its own special curriculum.

Three of Edison’s seven Dallas schools received the state’s lowest accountability rating in 2002. The other four were rated just one notch higher. The schools also failed to outperform district-run schools on student achievement tests.[8]

Edison-managed schools in Sherman saw the percentage of students meeting state standards drop 10 percentage points from 1996 to 1997.[9]

In its first year in Tyler ISD, Edison failed to order enough books and to implement its curriculum until the spring semester. That curriculum did not match the state’s curriculum, on which students were tested. Not surprisingly, fewer students at the Edison-managed school later passed state assessment tests compared to students at district-run schools.[10]

Correcting problems at the Tyler school was made harder because, while the company had emphasized site-based decision-making, Edison actually managed its Tyler school from its New York headquarters.[11]

The Miami-Dade County, Florida, school district in February of this year (2005) severed its contract with Edison to run an elementary school. The Miami school was Edison’s last in Florida. District analysts in 2001 had said that the Edison school had not shown academic advantages over the district’s traditional schools. The loss of the Miami contract brought to 20 the number of school districts across the country that have severed ties with Edison.[12]

Nearly half of Philadelphia students at Edison-run schools in 2003-04 had math test scores in the bottom performance category. In contrast, about 30 percent of students in the city’s district-run schools had test scores that low.[13]

 


[1] Edison School Web site, http://www.edisonschools.com/overview/ov0.html
[2] “Edison Stays Afloat by Altering Course,” New York Times, 7-3-2003
[3] “How Edison Survived,” The Nation, 3-15-2004
[4] “Edison costs DISD more, report finds,” Dallas Morning News. Mar. 20, 2001
“Challenges ahead for Edison Schools; Dallas schools haven’t blossomed under private plan,” Dallas Morning News. August 22, 2001.
[5] “Edison Project Didn’t Make the Grade,” Tyler Morning Telegraph, 3-30-2004
[6] http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org/weekly_article/edison_failing.html
[7] “For-profit U.S. schools sell off their textbooks,” Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), 10-30-2002
[8] “DISD” rejects Edison contract,” Dallas Morning News, 8-23-2002
[9] “Edison Project Didn’t Make Grade,” Tyler Morning Telegraph, 3-30-2004
[10] “Edison Project Didn’t Make Grade,” Tyler Morning Telegraph, 3-30-2004
[11] “Edison Project Didn’t Make Grade,” Tyler Morning Telegraph, 3-30-2004
[12] Parents Advocating School Accountability, Feb. 26, 2005, press release, www.pasasf.org and “Private takeover step closer for F schools,” The Miami Herald, Feb. 18, 2005
[13] “How district fared on quest to fix schools,” Philadelphia News, 6-16-2004