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Phaseout of EMOs accelerates

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

Shortly after the School Reform Commission approved the turnover of seven low-performing schools to charter operators, District officials told reporters without fanfare that 16 Philadelphia schools operated by outside education management organizations (EMOs) would revert to District management in the fall.

The change will leave just 12 District schools under EMO management. They are operated by five providers – EdisonLearning, Victory Schools, Universal Companies, Foundations Inc., and the University of Pennsylvania – that were among those hired to lead the massive effort to turn around District schools in 2002. At that time, shortly after the "friendly" state takeover of Philadelphia schools, 45 low-performing schools were put under outside management.

The District’s budget for education management organizations, which has declined steadily, is slated to be cut sharply in 2010-11, by $3.3 million or 44 percent, to $4.1 million. This covers Philadelphia’s 12 remaining EMO schools, which are under multiyear contracts through June 2011.

"The EMO model was flawed from the beginning, which is why we’re phasing it out," said Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Philadelphia drew national attention for its experiment with privatized and mostly for-profit school managers. However, several research studies showed that the academic gains at EMO schools did not exceed those at comparable District-managed schools, though EMOs received hundred of dollars per student in extra funding.

Universal, which Wednesday learned it will be adding Bluford and Daroff to its portfolio of schools for the fall, will be losing its contract to run Vare Middle School, which it has managed since 2002. Universal will continue to operate E.M Stanton as its only remaining EMO school; Universal once had three. At EMO schools, staff members remain District employees and the teachers are part of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers bargaining unit, but the outside manager hires the principal, sets the curriculum, and receives extra per pupil funding.

The big loser in the continuing phaseout of the EMO model is EdisonLearning, formerly known as Edison Schools Inc. The controversial for-profit school management company was first awarded contracts for 20 schools in 2002 and this year is operating 15. Edison is losing 11 schools — Alcorn, Barratt, Hartranft, W.D. Kelley, Kenderton, Locke, Ludlow, McMichael, Penn Treaty, Tilden, and Waring.

Foundations will be losing two schools (Kinsey and Pastorius), as will Victory (Pepper and Wright).

Besides E.M. Stanton, the schools still operating under EMO contracts through June 2011 are Anderson, Comegys, Huey, and Shaw (Edison); Fulton and King (Foundations); Bethune, Pratt, and E.W. Rhodes (Victory); and Lea and Alexander Wilson (University of Pennsylvania).

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