NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 26, 2007

In 2001, the Philadelphia local school board, long subject to cronyism, was disbanded and control of 45 of the lowest-performing schools was turned over to outside managers who create an entirely new school-management model, one where competition -- among private providers and the traditional system -- could produce innovation and new ideas, says the Wall Street Journal.

That's exactly what has happened over the past five years:

  • Among fifth-graders, proficiency in reading rose to 32 percent in 2006 from 21 percent in 2002, and math proficiency rose to 41 percent from 19 percent.
  • At the eighth-grade level, math and reading scores rose by 20 percentage points over the same period.
  • Just 26 schools met federal standards under No Child Left Behind in 2002; today, the number is 166.

Despite these gains, and facing a budget crunch this year, there have been calls to scrap or curtail funding for the private providers so earmarked money can be used for general purposes.  Proponents are now arguing, amazingly, that the improvements over the past decade would have happened without the reforms.  As proof, they cite a Rand Corporation study from earlier this year that found that the gains in schools under private management were on par with other schools in the state.

But what they don't mention is a separate study conducted by Harvard University's Paul Peterson exposed several methodological flaws in that study, says the Journal.  In any case, the point of the reform was not merely to improve the schools under private management.  It was to unleash competitive forces within the district that would help lift all boats.  That's clearly what has happened in Philadelphia, and it's why sending private educators packing would be another blow to the city's poorest children.

Source: Editorial, "Success in Philadelphia," Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2007.

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