Private success

April 24, 2002

IF YOU'VE spent any time in a classroom, you know student achievement doesn't happen by way of miracles.

No, children learn because they're taught well, because their instructors have been well prepared and are well supported. They achieve when their schools have a strong curriculum, when their principals are strong leaders and when parents are a working part of the school community.

That's why Edison Schools, a private company that has been running three Baltimore City schools for two years, is reporting soaring test scores and other achievements.

But is Edison's success proof that privatization is the best or most efficient path to academic achievement? It's much too early to give a definitive answer to that question.

The test scores Edison is touting right now, for example, represent a one-year jump. Sustaining that upward tick won't be a given. And in several other cities, Edison demonstrated early success only to see long-term performance that was no better than in other publicly managed schools.

It's also true that in Baltimore, many other schools are experiencing academic success after years of failure. Schools such as Dallas F. Nicholas, Cecil and Mount Royal elementaries have been real beneficiaries of the 1997 systemwide reorganization. Is their approach better than Edison's? Worse? Or just different? Those are questions worth answering.

When state officials brought in Edison two years ago to take over Montebello, Gilmor and Furman L. Templeton, they presented privatization as a last-ditch effort. The schools had tried just about everything else. Even the massive infusion of money that came with the 1997 reforms had not inspired progress.

Edison promised change -- and delivered.

In the short term, it's hard to argue with those results. But the company has its designs on other city schools, perhaps hoping to replicate what it has done in other cities. It just won a contract to run 20 schools in Philadelphia.

That kind of expansion can't be justified here before we take a closer look at what Edison has done, what it means long term -- and whether the same might be achieved under normal public management.

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