Friday, July 11, 2008

Edison, Dead-ison


After 16 years, endless controversy, and a sea of red ink, Edison Schools is no longer," blogs Education Sector co-director Tom Toch

in "The Quick and the Ed." Terry Stecz, who replaced Edison's founder,
Chris Whittle, as its chief executive last year, announced that Edison
Schools would henceforth be known as edisonlearning, Toch notes, and
the company intends to become a player in education software, focusing
on student tracking systems and other "achievement management
solutions." The work of running schools for mostly disadvantaged kids
in poor neighborhoods proved a lot tougher, and less profitable, than
the company had expected, says Toch. "Nor has the company been able to
scare up much new business in the No Child Left Behind era, a period
where states and schools systems have scrambled to find help in turning
around the many failing schools identified by the law. Edison's
competitors haven't fared much better."

Hooray! There is light at the end of the long, dark privatization tunnel. Handing urban schools over to businessmen and lawyers failed to produce results because private enterprise cannot, in fact, do it cheaper, faster better than government. Not when the “it” is a common good such as schools (or roads, public transport or health care), and not in the long run.

But maybe it’s too early to break out the champagne. According to Edison’s website, “This purchase [of Provost Systems] is the first in a series of acquisitions and partnerships that will lead to a portfolio of the most comprehensive online achievement management solutions to improve learning for all children. ” The reinvented Edison will not actually disappear but “work in partnership with public educators to use path-breaking technology and ideas to open the classroom to the world and accelerate learning for the 21st Century, not only for those who can afford it, but for all children”; it will “provide Internet-based solutions that will accelerate the learning curve for all children.” (“all children” is mentioned no fewer than 4 times in 3 short paragraphs—methinks they doth protest too much).

It sounds like they’ve hit upon an easier and more profitable way to feed at the public trough: instead of actually running schools, for which they might eventually be held accountable, they will just sell stuff to them (I say “stuff” because I’m not clear what actual product(s) all that verbiage purports to describe).

What spin will the DOE’s PR machine put on this? Watch out—the NYC public system might devolve into a combination of charter schools and nominally public schools that just feed money to Edison, the Leadership Academy, Cambridge and so forth.


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