Brian Gill, Ron Zimmer, Jolley Christman, Suzanne Blanc
In 2001, Gadfly asked, "Will Edison be able to turn around Philadelphia's schools?" More than five years later, the RAND Corporation has an answer--sort of. Using longitudinal student-level testing data (district reading and math scores from 2002-2006) RAND sought to determine whether Philadelphia's so-called "diverse provider" plan--which enlisted Edison, among other private managers--has benefited that city's students. To recount: in 2001, Pennsylvania took over the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) and invited seven private and nonprofit organizations to manage 45 troubled schools. Another 21 schools were restructured but remained under district management, and a final 16 were only given increased funding. RAND crunched test data for all three groups and found that only the restructured, district-controlled schools showed a statistically significant differential effect on student achievement. RAND also found little evidence that competition from the privately managed schools boosted overall district gains. Accordingly, the authors conclude, "we find no evidence of differential academic benefits that would support the additional expenditures on private managers." But caveats abound. First, "the Philadelphia model was characterized by little competition among providers and by the absence of parental choice among the educational models offered," while "continued district involvement in provider schools... constrained provider autonomy" (see here). Second, "the private managers may be producing other benefits that are not measurable in terms of student achievement" (see here, for instance). Further, former Pennsylvania schools chief Charles Zogby argues in another forum that private managers were not, in fact, awash in extra cash as the RAND report suggests. It seems that more time and deeper changes will be required to reach a true verdict on the diverse provider model. Read the RAND report here.