American Institutes of Research
In December, we reported on an AIR study of comprehensive school reform models designed for the elementary level. Now AIR is back with a similar look at "education service providers" (ESPs)-companies that manage public schools. The headline is a biggie: Edison Schools show moderate evidence of effectiveness in terms of boosting student achievement; the six other ESPs studied (Imagine Schools, Leona Group, Mosaica, National Heritage Academies, SABIS, and White Hat) do not. That such a major finding (Edison works!) from a government-funded research group would go unnoticed by the nation's news media (save for a small web-only item from Education Week) is a bit surprising. Is it because the press doesn't care for meta-analyses, since there's nothing new to report, or is the media guilty of an anti-privatization bias? Regardless, you should check out the study's executive summary, which graphically depicts the review's effectiveness ratings across five categories. What becomes obvious is the dearth of rigorous research on any of the companies but Edison. (And four of the seven apparently refused to provide any information to the researchers.) There are reasonable explanations. For one, many of these ESPs are still relatively new and don't yet serve the large numbers of students that are needed for rigorous large-scale studies. Still, for reasons of political necessity if not continuous improvement, one would think these companies would see the worth of collecting rigorous evidence of their impact. Maybe their investors haven't valued this activity; that's certainly one impression garnered by Steve Wilson's excellent book about the industry. Let's hope this report serves as a motivator for the Mosaicas, White Hats, and others to develop some serious evaluation capacity. In the meantime, Edison will surely celebrate (and promote) its rating, which, according to AIR, puts it on par with five "whole school reform" models-Accelerated Schools, America's Choice, Core Knowledge, School Renaissance, and School Development Program-trailing only superstars Direct Instruction and Success for All. To download the whole enchilada, click here.