Taking over for Edison

April 16, 2007

The three schools — Baltimore's school board will likely decide later this month whether to allow Edison Schools, the for-profit education management company, to continue operating three elementary schools where academic results have been mixed. Given Edison's lackluster record, city school officials should resume managing the schools.

The three schools - Montebello, Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor - were taken over by the state Department of Education in 2000 and turned over to Edison. At the time, the three schools were among the city's worst, marked by poor test scores and chaotic environments. Since 2003, when the state introduced new assessment tests, average proficiency rates for third- and fifth-graders in all three schools have increased 14.6 percentage points in reading and 20 points in math.

That's impressive, but hardly overwhelming, especially considering a 2005 study by the Abell Foundation that found that Edison was charging more to operate the three schools while other city schools achieved equivalent or better increases in test scores.

Then, last year, the three schools' performances on state assessments were disappointing. Despite gains and losses, Montebello is meeting federal and state standards for progress, but reading and math scores at Templeton and Gilmor fell below citywide averages in almost all grades.

Weeks after the scores were posted, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced that the state was returning oversight of the schools to the city school system, leaving local officials to decide whether to renew Edison's contract when it expires in June. But renewal doesn't make sense, given that even though Edison had more resources than its city-run counterparts, the academic performance of the company-run schools was not measurably better.

Edison does appear to have done a good job of engaging parents and communities in its reform efforts. And it has further enhanced its academic and professional development programs in response to last year's drop in performance. But its achievements have not been consistent.

Although city school officials must continue to demonstrate their capacity for meaningful reform, they have had arguably the most success in elementary schools. They should assume full responsibility for trying to extend that success, extracting the most positive contributions from Edison and applying them not only to Montebello, Templeton and Gilmor but to other troubled schools as well.

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