Austin Says “No” to Edison

The following is excerpted from a Feb. 25 statement by Pascal Forgione Jr., superintendent of the Austin Independent School District in Texas, regarding his recommendation that the district not enter into a contract with Edison Schools Inc. Forgione said he based his recommendation on three factors: student achievement, cost, and accountability.

After a very careful review, the Administration does not recommend that the District pursue a partnership with Edison Schools Inc.

Regarding proven student achievement, it is our firm conclusion that Edison Schools Inc. has a poor track record of improving academic performance, particularly for students of need. We have examined the record in Maryland, San Francisco, Sherman (TX), and other places. In some places, Edison schools have succeeded. But the record is very inconsistent and the overall track record is not compelling.

After studying the literature and the reported performance results nationwide, we visited our counterparts in Dallas ISD [Independent School District] to get their report first-hand. This carried a lot of weight, coming from a large, diverse, urban Texas school district with first-class leadership. In addition to our conversations with these officials, we visited Edison schools, where we found the curriculum to be inconsistent. And we received the school district’s formal evaluation of the Edison Schools in Dallas ISD. Among other findings, the report states: “Results based on the Effective Indices overwhelmingly favor the comparison [non-Edison] schools in 42 out of 49 comparisons. Given that the District considers these measures to be the most accurate method of measuring school effectiveness, this strongly suggests poor achievement at the Edison schools relative to the rest of the district and comparison schools.”

Regarding cost, we find contracting with Edison Schools Inc. to be a very expensive proposition. Dallas ISD reported that its best estimate to date is that it is spending $7 to $14 million more per year for seven Edison campuses than they would have spent otherwise. “The true cost of Edison is still an enigma,” reported the District. Other school districts reported similar problems. Two Sherman ISD assistant superintendents reported the following in a letter to their superintendent: “The history of the Edison Project in Sherman is one of promises broken, poor performance, and agreements violated.”

Regarding accountability, we also have concerns about an Edison school’s accountability to its parents and students and about its accountability to the district. Based on reports from the financial industry, we have concerns about its long-term stability and what that would mean to the school district. And we have major concerns about an Edison school’s responsibility for teachers and students who don’t work out.

It is our conclusion that Edison Schools Inc. would produce few gains in student achievement and would cost considerably more than we now spend or could afford.