Three Edison schools post gains on tests

City elementaries improve in first year under private control

`Have to reward success'

State board allows company to expand by grade at each site

May 24, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Pupils in the three Baltimore schools taken over by the state for low achievement posted improved scores on national reading and math examinations in their first year under control of a for-profit company, state educators announced yesterday.

The improved test scores at the three elementaries run by Edison Schools prompted the state school board to agree to let the company expand the privatization experiment by adding sixth grade at each school.

"I think we have to reward success," said state board member Edward Root. "I hope Baltimore City will watch this very carefully."

The test scores released yesterday for Furman L. Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello elementary schools showed reading and math scores improved in almost every grade level on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills exams given to all city pupils in March.

Montebello was the only one of the three elementaries to consistently score above the citywide averages. Its first-grade reading score of the 93rd percentile was the highest in the city -- narrowly edging out first-graders at William Pinderhughes Elementary, who scored in the 92nd percentile. The average city first-grader scored in the 54th percentile.

Though scores at Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor were generally below the citywide averages, Edison officials and state educators said it's too soon to expect large gains because the company took over three of the city's lowest-performing schools. They said the improvements after less than seven months of instruction demonstrate that Edison's reforms are starting to work.

"The early indicators are that academic progress has already begun," said John Chubb, Edison's chief education officer. "We are very pleased with the progress, and we think it compares favorably with what you'd see in any low-performing school, especially one that's at the beginning of reform."

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick also described the gains posted at the three Edison schools as "impressive," and said they are generally comparable to the reading and math score improvements announced last week for elementary schools across Baltimore.

City schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo declined to comment on the Edison schools' results or the state board's decision, referring an interview request to the school system's lawyer. He did not return a telephone message yesterday.

Last year, after years of warning schools about low achievement, the state board voted for the first time to take over three failing Baltimore schools, giving control of them to Edison -- the nation's largest publicly traded school management company. As part of the process known as reconstitution, Edison was permitted to hire its staffs and to choose instructional programs.

During the winter, the board targeted a fourth city elementary for reconstitution, though it agreed to let the city maintain control of the school and hire its own outside contractor.

Edison staff members said they were pleasantly surprised by the first year's gains and predict far greater improvement after their second year, when teachers, parents and pupils are more familiar with the instructional programs.

"Just wait until next year," said Gilmor Principal JoAnn Cason. "We're creating miracles every day, bump after bump after bump, and we're going to see a lot more results."

Montebello Principal Sarah Horsey -- who as principal of Pimlico Elementary was credited with gains in pupil achievement -- said Edison's resources and philosophy helped her school's teachers quickly turn around instruction. Edison's three schools have lengthened the school year and the school day while adopting a comprehensive reform model focused on intensive reading instruction.

"I was able to do in one year at Montebello what it took me five years to do at Pimlico because of Edison," Horsey said.

With the apparent early success, Edison quickly sought to amend its five-year contract with the state to let it expand to include sixth grade at the three schools in the fall. More than 700 parents at the three schools signed a petition backing the expansion, and the City Council approved a resolution in support of the move.

"This is something the parents really want," said Darryl Bonds, principal at Furman L. Templeton. "They want to see their kids continue to succeed."

Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor have space for the additional pupils, while Montebello will need to add five portable classrooms, according to Edison officials. For each additional sixth-grader, the company will be paid the per-pupil amount spent by the city -- the same amount that Edison is reimbursed for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

State school board members said they agreed to allow the schools to add a grade because the neighborhood middle schools perform poorly.

"Unfortunately, the middle schools are not performing anywhere near the level where, if it was my children, I would want to send them," said board member Reginald Dunn.

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