NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Philadelphia Launches Nation's Boldest School Reform Effort

April 26, 2002

Philadelphia's is the first urban school district in the country taken over by a state that wants to overhaul schools through privatization. The state took over the city's troubled public schools in December and decided to turn over more than one-fourth of the schools to private companies, local universities and community groups.

States are usually reluctant to take over school districts.

  • Since 1988, 19 states have intervened in operating 48 of the nation's 15,000 school districts.
  • The federal government also took over schools in the District of Columbia.
  • Philadelphia constitutes the nation's seventh-largest school district -- and experts see it as probably one of the nation's worst performers, where a majority of students don't have basic math or reading skills.
  • The city's School Reform Commission is making sweeping changes in 70 of the city's 264 schools.

It turned 42 over to private companies to manage. Twenty will be run by Edison Schools, the nation's largest for-profit education company. Some targeted schools will continue to be run by the district -- but may get completely new teaching staffs.

Notwithstanding the wretched state of the schools, there are plenty of activists in the city who have stepped forward in favor of the status quo. The decision to award a contract to Edison prompted bitter protests.

A female student at one school protested Edison's policy of lengthening school days, complaining that would be unfair to teen mothers who want to spend time with their children.

Edison invests an average of $1.5 million in every school it manages, and charges school districts about $6,900 per pupil. Philadelphia spent $7,779 per student in 1999-2000.

Source: Rochelle Sharpe, "Philly Schools Test Huge Reform," USA Today, April 26, 2002.

For text


Browse more articles on Education Issues