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March 26, 2009

Edison's woes extend to Philadelphia

The Notebook blog about Philadelphia public schools linked to my Edison coverage in an entry that goes on to describe the company's woes there.

Early this decade, Edison made a pitch to privatize the entire Philadelphia school district. Instead, it got a contract to run 20 schools. The post notes that, in securing that contract in 2002, Edison touted its work in Baltimore "as a model of its ability to turn around struggling urban schools." Last year, schools chief Arlene Ackerman ended contracts at four Edison schools and put another dozen on one-year probation. The writer counts 62 schools nationwide that Edison is now managing, down from more than 100.

UPDATE: I got this e-mail from Edison spokesman Michael Serpe:

First off, Helen Gym is not a reporter; she is the head of a parent group she founded.  While she is provided a forum by The Notebook, and has every right to express her opinion and continued dislike for our organization, she in no way should be considered an objective journalist.

Second, the number of schools EdisonLearning partners with nationwide is not 62, and Philadelphia does not represent one-fourth of the total.  Earlier this week I provided you a full detailed listing of our work nationwide – 120 schools in 24 states, with 35 of those schools located in Hawaii.

Obviously, these totals for the current school year do not reflect the coming change in Baltimore.  However, they also do not reflect the addition of 2 new charter schools – 1 in Denver and the other in York, PA; with a number of others awaiting final approval.  These numbers also do not reflect the new online high school in South Carolina that will open this fall, or the online high school to open in Colorado in 2010, that together will offer a new educational option for 1,500 high school students.

One final point of misinformation, this organization does not provide “online consulting” as Mrs. Gym speculated.  “Online education” is the accurate description.

This email is in no way designed to counter one’s opinion of our organization, or any organization that seeks to offer a different approach to public education – be it for-profit or not-for-profit.  EdisonLearning has its critics – as does The Sun; and we have supporters – as you saw at the recent School board meetings.  All I am asking is that people get the basic facts right.

UPDATE, 3/31: Here is a reply from Notebook editor Paul Socolar:

It looks like Serpe is charging "misinformation" based on two items in Helen Gym's post and one in your post.

He goes on at length about the number of schools Edison partners with.
In Philadelphia, what we focus on is school management contracts because that's what Edison came to Philadelphia to do and still does here - run schools. Edison's website indicates that you are correct in your statement that Edison manages 62 schools, which is down from more than 100 (when they first came to Philadelphia). Those are the numbers Helen quoted in her blog. Now that what used to be ancillary services for Edison have become a major part of their business, Edison may now be more interested in citing how many schools they have contracts with, including contracts for "achievement services" and "extended education".
But it's accurate to say the Philadelphia accounts for about 1/4 of Edison's school management contracts.

I won't dispute Serpe's point that "online education" may be a better term to describe what Edison does than "online consulting." I've changed that word in Helen's post. But I hardly think that qualifies as misinformation.

Serpe is also correct that Helen Gym is not a Notebook reporter, nor does she claim to be ... a majority of our bloggers are regular online guest columnists. However, as an editor, I make every effort to ensure that our bloggers are factually accurate. Serpe or his colleagues are free to challenge the accuracy of this post and our coverage of Edison in Philadelphia on our site, and to date they have not.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:54 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City


I had the extreme misfortune of teaching in Chester, PA during the Edison debacle there. During that time I learned of some of the questionable practices at its Baltimore schools. Good riddance

Care to elaborate on some of those 'questionable practices' Wayne?

Baltimore is over an hour and a half from Chester, PA how does one become so knowledgeable from so far away?


Edison had operations out of Chester with some of the resources getting shared with Baltimore. I believe a good amount of the training for the Baltimore staff happened up in Penn, so there's a good chance that regular communication was happening.

Thanks Warren.

Since it is plausible that Wayne *could* have learned about edison's questionable practices I have one question for Wanye, When did you stop beating your wife?
Oh really?
I heard you did.

In response to Mr. Serpe’s email, I’d like to offer a few clarifications about my post at the Public School Notebook:

The number of schools I cited – 62 – is the number of schools managed by EdisonLearning. Mr. Serpe plays loose with his own numbers, preferring to blend the number of schools management contracts with the number of school partnerships EdisonLearning has. Therefore, Philadelphia, which only has school management contracts, accurately comprises a quarter of the number of school management contracts run by Edison.

Second, at no point have I claimed to be a reporter for the Notebook. That is not an error attributable to me. At the same time, what I wrote was hardly a set of opinions about my “dislike” for Edison. In all my posts at the Notebook, I cited a number of studies, as well as the nationwide decline in the number of school management contracts and the local attrition rate from Edison’s Philadelphia schools as data supporting a number of concerns about Edison’s work here. I stand by the accuracy of that data, and welcome Mr. Serpe’s response as to why that has happened.

Finally, I will defer to Mr. Serpe’s expertise that EdisonLearning provides “online education” versus “online consulting” though I would hardly characterize that as misinformation. EdisonLearning’s own website talks about its education consulting services.

I am in full agreement that what people need about Edison is significant clarity about facts, research and data. In Philadelphia in particular, Edison/EdisonLearning has done a lot to cloud access to facts and data, as evidenced by Mr. Serpe’s response above.

I'm a San Francisco public school activist who followed Edison Schools closely back when it was being touted as the miracle cure for public education circa 2001). Now-failed Edison has always fudged and faked the number of schools it runs, sometimes with funny little means of counting and sometimes with what appears to be just good old-fashioned lying.

Oh, one more point: Edison's M.O., when it has been kicked out of school districts by dissatisfied clients (which has happened with the majority of its clients), has been to claim after the fact that EDISON initiated the split. Edison even did that when it mounted a huge public, legal and media battle against the severance (as in San Francisco) and when it had publicly threatened to sue the district over the severance (as in Dallas).

We'll wait to see if Edison makes that claim about Baltimore too. Honesty is not this operator's strong suit.

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