Improving Student Achievement? (Working paper)

Martha Abele Mac Iver and Douglas J. Mac Iver
National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education
September 2007

Earlier this year, responding to a RAND study that questioned the efficacy of Philadelphia's privately-managed school experiment, Paul Peterson released findings showing that the private operators were, in fact, producing achievement gains. Unfortunately, both his report and the RAND study it rebutted had methodological weaknesses due to data limitations. This working paper from two Johns Hopkins researchers addresses those shortcomings by using longitudinal, student-level test results to measure the impact of private education management organizations (EMOs) on student achievement. The authors compared state assessment scores of Philadelphia middle-schoolers in EMO schools to those of their peers in traditional public schools. As with the RAND analysis, the results are not encouraging for advocates of privatization. Overall, schools run by Edison Schools made the same gains in math and reading as their district counterparts while other EMO schools were outpaced by traditional public schools. The authors allow that EMO schools may show greater gains over time (they've only been operating in Philadelphia for four years) but note that "privatization has not directly addressed the key determinants of student achievement growth uncovered in previous educational research": teacher quality, principal instructional leadership, "school climate focused on academic achievement," and "consistency and coherence in curriculum and instruction." Read it here.

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