WHEN IT COMES to improving Philadelphia's schools, it's the city school district - not private managers - that performs best, according to a much-anticipated new report released today.
In fact, after looking at four years of data, the researchers couldn't find any evidence in test scores that "would support the additional resources for the private managers," reads the report, authored by researchers from the nonprofit organizations the RAND Corporation and Research for Action.
Six private managers began running 45 low-performing schools after the state takeover of city schools in 2001. These "educational management organizations" were given millions in additional funding for their schools. But the report said those schools saw changes in test scores no better than the rest of the school district's over the next four years.
However, the 21 schools that were reformed by the district - and also given more money, though not as much as the EMO schools - saw significant improvements in math scores during three of the four study years and improvements in reading in one year.
"I think the education community should look at this report as giving us some lessons about education management organizations. One of those lessons is that they don't necessarily bring stronger assets, knowledge and capacity to the district," said Jolley Bruce Christman, a founder of Research for Action.
The report is one of at least three that the School Reform Commission will use to determine whether to renew the managers' contracts later this year, said district CEO Paul Vallas.
Though the five-year EMO contracts don't expire until June, the SRC could make decisions on their fates by March, Vallas said.
This year the school district will spend $18.1 million on the EMOs, he said, bringing the total in extra funding spent on them in five years to $107.1 million.
"I don't think it's going to be an all-or-nothing situation. I think basically what's going to happen is the School Reform Commission will use the data to determine which EMOs should be extended and which schools should continue to operate as EMO schools," Vallas said.
In addition, he said, some contract terms could be changed to give managers more or less control of their schools.
The EMOs include for-profit Edison SchoolsInc. and Victory Schools Inc.; nonprofits Foundations Inc. and Universal Companies; and Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.
A seventh manager, Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc., was fired in 2003.
The report's findings are consistent with the last round of state reading and math test data released in July.
"The point is, if you're going to try to judge their achievement in terms of reading and math, they are doing about the same as the rest of the district, but not better," Brian Gill of RAND said of the EMOs.
The report also said that Temple and Victory had done the poorest jobs of the six managers, with Victory's schools losing ground in math during the four years and Temple's students losing ground in math and reading.
Officials from the EMOs defended their performance. Some denounced the report altogether.
"There is no scientific basis for the report's conclusions. The report's methodology is incompetent. It makes errors that would not be made by any trained economics researcher," said John Chubb, chief education officer for Edison Schools, which manages 20 schools this year.
Chubb said that among the report authors' mistakes is concluding that the school district is not getting its money's worth from the EMOS. He said EMO schools spend less on teachers because their teaching forces typically are younger and thus are paid less.
Chubb also complained that instead of just using state reading and math scores, the report factors in results from two other tests that are not used to determine if schools are improving under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"It took 30 years for some schools to be in the condition they're in. It's going to take time and bold approaches to changes these schools," said Rhonda H. Lauer, chief executive of Foundations, which manages six schools.
Lauer said her New Jersey-based organization has improved learning environments at its schools, increased parent involvement and created KidZone, a program with a 10-year commitment to provide human and social services to children and families in the city's northwest.
Benjamin Wright, regional director and superintendent of the six Victory Schools in Philadelphia, also said his company is changing lives, even if test scores are lagging. "The gains that we have seen in math and literacy, considering where they were, is significant," he said. "If they are comparing us to the other schools in the school district, that's like apples and oranges considering that we are in the toughest neighborhoods."
Wright also complained that for much of the contract period, Victory had trouble getting teachers, who still work for the school district, to teach the company's curriculum.
Kent McGuire, dean of Temple's College of Education, said the report comes at an important time for Temple. Just three weeks ago the College of Education took over managing the four school district schools from the office of the university president.
"We're really glad that the study has been done. It comes at an important time in our involvement and gives us a very important baseline from which to work," he said.