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Comparing Philadelphia’s diverse providers: some recent reports

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Published test scores are just one of the means that are available to make comparisons of the success of different management approaches. The performance of privately managed schools has lagged behind District schools on some 2006 performance indicators. In more sophisticated analysis by researchers, no evidence has been found that any of the management models are superior to others.

  • The 2006 Pennsylvania Adequate Yearly Progress report revealed that only 11 of 43 schools run by private managers met their performance targets. Among District-run schools, slightly more than half made their goals. Among the private providers, five of 22 Edison schools met targets, two of six for Foundations, one of six for Victory, one of four for Temple, one of three for Universal, and one of two for Penn.
  • 2006 PSSA scores show that District schools have improved faster than EMO schools as a group since the takeover. But the largest four-year gains in reading have been posted by Penn schools, and Temple schools have shown the largest gains in math. Fifth grade reading and eighth grade math are still big problem areas for provider-managed schools, though there are no longer any providers with single-digit proficiency rates. Of the private providers, only Penn has a quarter of its eighth graders showing proficiency in math, and only Universal has a quarter of its fifth graders proficient in reading.
  • The 2006 Accountability Review Council report from this state-created evaluation body noted that both District-managed and privately managed schools were increasing the percentage of students scoring at or above the national average in reading, language arts, and math. “Schools under EMOs showed a somewhat uneven pace of improvement,” the report noted, and it promised further analysis using a “value-added approach” that follows the performance of the same students over time.
  • Johns Hopkins University professors Douglas J. Mac Iver and Martha Abele Mac Iver’s 2006 research paper on middle grades math achievement in Philadelphia followed individual student results over time and found gains in math scores. But the authors stated, “Privatization has been an expensive experiment in Philadelphia. So far, this experiment has not paid of by producing consistently better math achievement gains in the privatized schools than in the District-managed schools.”
  • Research for Action’s 2005 report by Elizabeth Useem analyzed gains on the TerraNova reading and math tests in District-run and privately managed schools through 2005. With a rigorous statistical analysis, researchers found no significant difference in test score improvement among providers.