Brian P. Gill, Laura S. Hamilton, et al.
It takes times to make a fine wine, and time to raise academic achievement. That's RAND's less-than-scintillating conclusion in its report on Edison Schools, the nation's largest, private education management company. According to the study, achievement gains for schools in their first two years under Edison control generally don't vary much from those of comparison institutions. And in many cases, student performance actually declines immediately following an Edison takeover. Four years after Edison takes charge of a school, however, many of them begin to show significant improvements. And after five years, Edison school students in general produce test scores that are significantly higher than those in comparable, non-Edison classrooms. (RAND doubters say it matters greatly which year the analysts selected as their starting point.) In any case, little here is predictable on the basis of age alone. The study notes that, while some Edison schools function at high academic levels, others never emerge from their achievement slumps. What's the difference? According to RAND, Edison operations that post the greatest gains are those not micromanaged by local education authorities. In short - the fewer the constraints, the better the school. RAND's findings are said to be the "most comprehensive independent assessment of Edison schools ever conducted." But education reformers will find little new here. In fact, Edison founder Chris Whittle serves up most of RAND's conclusions in his own new book (see here). Those who thirst for statistics may enjoy the study's bevy of charts and graphs. The rest can probably satisfy themselves with a glass of Sonoma's finest and this squib.