Edison in Chester Upland
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- Subject: Edison in Chester Upland
- From: George Sheridan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2003 10:47:26 -0800
For those of you interested in Edison Schools - an article from NEA Today.
Dedicated Educators, Dead-End Management
Spending cuts and poor leadership by Edison Schools, Inc. compound the
problems of a struggling Pennsylvania district.
NEA Today, February 2003
The first time your state legislators ooh and aah over the idea of
for-profit school management, suggest a study tour of Pennsylvania's
5,300-student Chester Upland district, where Edison Schools, Inc.--the
nation's "leading private manager of public schools"--is shaping the best
possible arguments against privatization.
NEA state and local affiliate officials charge that Edison, which has run
nine of this high-poverty district's 10 public schools since 2000, is
generating huge problems through spending cutbacks and poor educational
Quite simply, "we believe that during Edison's management of Chester
Upland, the environment for teaching and learning has deteriorated, not
improved," says Gloria Zoranski, president of the 481-member Chester Upland
Education Association (CUEA).
Edison is struggling financially--its share price plunged from a high of
$38 in 2001 to $1.55 at the beginning of December. And Thomas Persing,
chair of a state-appointed control board overseeing Chester Upland,
recently acknowledged in an education journal that Edison's "financial
difficulties," along with Securities and Exchange Commission
investigations, lawsuits by investors, and other adverse developments "have
compounded Edison's problems and increased our concern about our
relationship with Edison."
Yet the state of Pennsylvania, which directly controls Chester Upland and
11 other struggling districts under its "Education Empowerment Act," hasn't
paid attention. Last autumn, the Chester Upland control board doubled the
value of its existing contract with Edison, to more than $4 million this
school year, while a city/state control board handed Edison a five-year,
$60 million contract to run 20 "low-performing" Philadelphia schools.
For all its troubles, Edison clearly has friends among privatizers in
public office--it manages public schools in 24 states--and strong prospects
under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
ESEA, which permits private management of public schools that fail to make
"adequate yearly progress" for five consecutive years, offers a "tremendous
opportunity for Edison to leverage its experience and expertise on behalf
of districts and states seeking solutions," Edison executive Jim Howland
recently gushed to a business reporter.
Obstacles to Achievement
It will be mighty hard, however, to leverage anything from the Chester
Upland experience. In November, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that
student scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test
declined in nine Chester Upland schools, "with the best performance in the
district at Toby Farms Elementary, the one [school] not run by Edison."
Factors behind Chester Upland's sinking scores include:
* A breakdown in student discipline. When Edison assumed control of
Chester Upland, it saved money by closing the district's grade 7-12
alternative school, leaving schools no option other than suspensions--and
accepting students straight out of incarceration.
Worse, the heads of school "leadership teams" must both teach class
and handle the discipline problems of kids from tough urban neighborhoods.
CUEA President Zoranksi, a business teacher at Chester High School,
charges that "four schools are out of control" and that the district's
security force is poorly staffed and undertrained--leading to unchecked
gang activity and assaults on students and teachers.
* Cutbacks in staff, programs, and supplies. CUEA has successfully
fought teacher layoffs but has been unable stop Edison from firing 15
technical support staffers and more than 100 paraeducators--or from gutting
middle school career, industrial arts, and home economics programs.
On top of these cutbacks, teachers report shortages of everything
from copier paper to instructional materials, forcing them to improvise and
spend more out of pocket. "This year, several schools opened their doors
without textbooks," Zoranski points out, "and Columbus, our largest
elementary, opened without any teaching materials."
Edison's penny pinching extends even to teacher technology--the
company has not fulfilled its promise to issue a laptop computer to every
Chester Upland teacher--and to site-level purchasing. "Until last year, we
had a business support manager in every school to order supplies," notes
Zoranski. "Now those positions are gone. In September and October, teachers
had no direction to get what they needed for class. Blame goes back and
forth and nothing gets to the solution stage."
Another reason supply decisions are in short supply: Edison gives
Chester Upland principals bonuses that hinge on both student performance
and how much is not spent out of a school's budget.
A Bright Spot: Teacher Dedication
Edison may not show respect for Chester Upland teachers, but the district's
new superintendent does. "I firmly believe that quality staff is still
present today in our district," Dr. Dexter Davis declared in his 2002-03
school opening address. "It will be my responsibility to provide the
administrators and teachers with the support and materials to get the job
"Dr. Davis gives it his best shot, and he's been willing to work with the
Association," notes Zoranksi. "The minute he became superintendent, he said
he wanted to communicate with us and never wanted to stop."
The superintendent knows dedication when he sees it. In the face of
indiscipline and the "hardships of where these children come from," an
amazing number of Chester Upland teachers "still come to work each day and
spend their own money on the kids," stresses the CUEA president. "They're
highly motivated, even though it's a tough place to work.
"Our teachers put up with verbal abuse from students and lack of support
from Edison administrators and still manage to teach, to get students to
learn," Zoranksi concludes. "They're excited about presenting new lessons
and they love passing knowledge on to students."
CUEA President Gloria Zoranski can be contacted at Glo6@hotmail.com.
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