NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Students Gain In Edison's For-Profit Schools

December 17, 1997

Elementary students at public schools operated by the for-profit Edison Project have registered solid two-year gains in reading and math, according to a study. Edison now operates 25 public schools in eight states.

Although the report shows some academic improvement after one year at eight partnership schools opened in 1996, more complete data are available on the two-year experiences of the first four Edison partnership schools opened in 1995. Schools in Wichita, Kan., have operated the longest. The others are in Boston; Mount Clemens, Mich.; and Sherman, Texas.

  • Students who entered the Wichita school as third graders in 1995 and reached fifth grade in 1997 improved test scores an average of 25 percentage points on the national Metropolitan achievement test.
  • The proportion of Wichita students in the lowest quartile fell from 49 percent to 8 percent in reading and from 42 percent to 16 percent in math.
  • First- through sixth grade students attending the Boston school raised their scores by more than two grade equivalents in just one year.

One of the few Edison schools to post a loss was the one in Texas. There the percentage of third graders meeting minimum state standards in math fell 10 percentage points -- to 57 percent from 67 percent between Spring 1996 and Spring 1997.

Even those who have been most skeptical about Edison's prospects concede that its short-term gains in student performance are intriguing and worthy of further study. One critic said some of the progress made "has the potential to be significant, statistically significant."

Critics say schools are trying to be all things to all people -- throwing educational efforts out of focus. They say schools should regain focus by adopting the business principle of concentrating on the needs of customers. To many parents, educational focus is one of the many benefits of charter schools, which are not as accountable to educational bureaucracies and are free to concentrate on the specific needs of individual children.

Sources: Tamara Henry, "Test Gains at For-Profit Schools," USA Today, and Jacques Steinberg, "Edison Project Reports Measurable Progress in Reading and Math at its Schools," New York Times, both Wednesday, December 17, 1997.


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