This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Three full years into the School District’s experiment with privatization of school management, the Vallas administration this spring showed it is willing to put new schools under outside management as well as to introduce new management models.
Looking to benefit from this round of changes is Edison Schools Inc., which is poised to add two elementary schools to its cohort – Hartranft and Huey. But that proposal faced some tough questions from School Reform Commission members in May.
The District made a major shift in its own approach to interventions in low-performing schools, closing down its Office of Restructured Schools while launching a new “Creative Action and Results” (CAR) region to work with 11 schools with severe achievement, attendance, and school climate problems. All 11 have failed to meet state targets for “adequate yearly progress” six years in a row.
The CAR region will use a “case study” approach, tailoring specific interventions for each particular school, District officials said.
Temple University is facing a diminished role as the District moved to place two Temple “partnership schools” (Ferguson and Meade) in its new CAR Region. Two of the other six Temple-led schools (Wanamaker and Elverson) are closing this year. Elverson will be reopening as a military high school.
In offering two more schools to Edison, the Vallas administration gave the controversial for-profit school manager a boost at a time when the company was being buffeted by new scandals and a flurry of contract terminations nationally affecting at least 20 Edison schools.
It has been an especially rough year for Edison in Chester, where the company is pulling out of its eight schools at the end of the school year. One Edison principal was dismissed over a cheating revelation and another, at Chester High School, is being investigated for a possible sex crime.
Elsewhere, two Michigan districts with clusters of Edison schools, Inkster and Flint, are not renewing their contracts with the company, according to news reports. Schools in York, Rochester, Miami, Worcester, MA, and Springfield, IL are also reported to be ending their contracts with Edison.
In Philadelphia, Edison has seen diminishing revenues from its contract with the District. The District’s education management organizations, or EMOs, are paid based on the number of students served. One Edison school – Stoddart-Fleisher – will be closing this year, and overall enrollment at Edison’s 20 schools is down by 15 percent since 2002, according to District data.
An SRC vote on the resolution for Edison to manage Huey and Hartranft was postponed May 18 so that commissioners could review more information. Commissioner Sandra Dungee Glenn said she is “skeptical about the value-added that the EMOs have brought.”
“Are we seeing gains in their schools that would justify the resources we’re spending?” Glenn asked. Edison and other EMOs receive $750 extra per student.
Explaining his recommendation to tap Edison, Chief Academic Officer Gregory Thornton noted that both schools had been under the Office of Restructured Schools and said their lack of progress called for ongoing support, including “an intensive focus in the area of literacy.”
According to Thornton, Edison “had the structures for this particular case. If it was a straight middle school, I probably wouldn’t have done Edison.”
Thornton said he saw Victory, Edison and Universal as the three EMOs so far that are making “substantive gains – gains parallel to the District’s.” But he added, “From a researcher’s standpoint, it’s really too soon to say who are the winners and who are the losers.”