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Parents Seek To Renew Contract With For-Profit Edison Schools

Frank Klein
STAYING AFTER: Dawn Tucker (with her daughter Dasia Thompson) is one of many parents of children in Baltimore City schools run by for-profit Edison Schools who want the company's contract extended.

By Jason Torres | Posted 2/14/2007

Parents of students who attend city public schools run by Edison Schools are rallying behind the company, urging the city school board to renew its contract with the for-profit education-management firm.

Seven years ago the state declared that it would take control of three of the city's lowest-performing public elementary schools: Montebello, Gilmor, and Furman L. Templeton. In each of these schools, more than 80 percent of the students had failed to pass the state's basic skills tests. So in spring 2000, Edison was brought in, and it entered into a five-year contract with the state to run the three schools through 2005. In 2005, the company's contract was renewed for another two years, and it is up for renewal again this June.

Under Edison's guidance, each of the schools has been brought back up to par, and they have all been removed from the list of the worst schools in the city. (Although, according to news reports, Maryland State Achievement test scores at Furman L. Templeton and Gilmore dropped significantly last year, putting those two schools below citywide averages in reading and math.) The state is preparing to hand control of these three schools back to the city school board, and now school officials must decide whether to continue contracting with Edison or take over management of the three schools.

Parents and faculty at the Edison-run schools have been vocal about their support of the company's contract, and The Sun reported last month that 250 parents and faculty members flocked to the Jan. 10 city school board meeting to express their concerns about letting the contract expire. This month, parents started a petition in support of the company and are asking the city school board to keep the firm in place for the sake of their children.

"I think the curriculum is excellent," says Dawn Tucker, the mother of a Montebello fourth-grader. "I had my daughter in private school before, and this is more challenging. . . . She's been there for the last two years, and I can see a difference in what she's doing."

Andrea Chaplin, president of Furman L. Templeton's Parent Advisory Council, is quoted on Edison's web site as saying that the company "brings out the best from our children."

But in late 2005, the nonprofit Abell Foundation raised questions about the state's contract with Edison Schools. Abell issued a report in September of that year indicating that the Edison schools cost more to run than other successful city schools and that much of the money it receives does not get reinvested in the school system or its students. Edison receives roughly $10,000 per student per year from the state in exchange for its services. According to Abell's 2005 report, much of that money does not go back to education--rather, according to the Abell Foundation's research, the company pocketed 16 percent of the money it received from Maryland to run those schools in 2005. About 12 percent of the money it received from Maryland in 2005, Abell discovered, went to pay corporate administrative costs.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, city school board Chairman Brian Morris said that the board will "consider renewing the contract," but that "it may just be too expensive to maintain that contract with Edison Schools."

Dwayne Andrews, vice president of government relations for Edison Schools, expresses subdued frustration during a recent phone interview on the matter. "In a way, we're the victim of our own success," he says. "These schools have been taken out of the hands of the state because they're performing so well."

Jacqueline Marshall, vice president of development for Edison Schools, says Edison has not just improved performance at its Baltimore schools, but is also "changing the culture of these schools and communities." In addition, she says, parents are concerned that if the schools go back to being run by the city, students will once again fall behind, or that the schools could be targeted for closure by the school board as it consolidates its facilities.

"Our schools are now 70 percent proficient, and that's great, that's improvement," Marshall says. "There's a chance that after these schools go back to the city, they could end up as one of the underattended schools that eventually shut down."

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick has publicly praised Edison's progress in Baltimore, but she has left the decision of whether to renew the company's contract entirely up to the city school board.

"The city school board will be making an announcement on the status of the contract at the next school board meeting on the 27th of February," school system spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt says when asked about the status of the Edison situation. "But it could be [made] as early as this week."

That's none too soon for most anxious parents, including Andrews.

"I hope they come to a decision soon," he says. "We're talking about the lives of families. Parents are going to start looking into transfers, and the same with teachers and other staff."

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