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Diversifying Low Performance, And Paying More For It: Klein’s Ideas In Practice

The theoretical basis for the organizational model Chancellor Klein would like to impose on New York City public schools is known in the educational policy world as the “diverse providers” model. The theory, laid out in the Tough Choices or Tough Times report produced by New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce on which Klein sat, has the school district outsourcing its core work, the provision of education, to a number of private providers [including for profit EMOs] who actually operate the schools.

There are two school districts in the United States that have put this model into practice.

The first district is New Orleans, where the Bush US Department of Education and the Louisiana governor used the devastation caused by Katrina as an opportunity to dismantle the public school system. Like everything else that the Bush administration has done in post-Katrina New Orleans, the result was a manmade catastrophe on top of the natural disaster.

The second district is Philadelphia, where a number of low performing schools were outsourced to for profit EMOs such as Edison Schools and Victory Schools. Today, the respected non-partisan Rand Corporation and the Philadelphia based Research for Action issued a devastating study of the Philadelphia experiment, Student Achievement in Privately Managed and District-Managed Schools in Philadelphia Since the State Takeover. The report compared 41 out-sourced schools run by EMOs such as Edison and Victory with district-run public schools. Over the last five years, the outsourced, EMO run schools produced “no statistically significant effects” in terms of improved students scores on standardized reading and math exams. By contrast, restructured district run public schools, providing many of the same resources NYC provided in the successful Chancellor’s District before Klein dismantled it, provided statistically significant better scores. What were those resources? Smaller classes, additional literacy and math instruction with proven curricula, and lead teachers, among other things.

And if this were not enough, the citizens of Philadelphia have subsidized mightily the schools run by the EMOs and the EMO coffers. District spending in the EMO run schools is 10% greater — $7750 per student — than it is in the district run schools — $7000 per student. This adds up to an annual $18 million extra spent on the EMO run schools.

“There is no evidence to proceed with the model of private management of schools, as is, that we have here in Philadelphia,” concluded Jolley Bruce Christman of Research for Action.

Commenting on the report, Hank Levin, director of Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, said: “To me, it’s a romance that just hasn’t worked. It’s not that they are doing worse, but that they don’t seem to be doing any better, and they cost more. That’s a serious challenge, particularly for a district facing a deficit.”

After five years of permanent structural revolution under Klein, isn’t it time that New York City charted a path that bore some relationship to the evidence?



  • 1 curious3
    · Feb 1, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    I recommend that readers refer to the “Conclusions and Implications” section of the RAND report (page 3) to get what I believe to be a more balanced summary of the findings. Some of you might find the conclusions a bit less “devastating” than Leo did.

    Meanwhile, charter schools in NYC are already getting comparable results, and in several cases much better results, for considerably less money per student than traditional public schools. As that situation develops and as inner-city parents flood the lotteries to gain entry into many of those schools, I hope the UFT joins the fight to take action consistent with the evidence.


  • 2 Leo Casey
    · Feb 2, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Not “as devastating.” Hmmm.

    As a teacher, I am always looking for new approaches, new ways to engage the multiple intelligences. Perhaps a little visual will help…

  • 3 curious3
    · Feb 2, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    The final sentence of the report reads “Whether a model of private management that involves more autonomy to managers, parental choice, and competition would produce better results remains an open question.” I think the authors recognize that Philadelphia’s experiments do not prove that private management cannot be effective. Leo, how do you interpret this very last sentence in the report you use as the basis for your posting?

    I look forward to your future analyses of NYC public school performance data. I strongly support your desire to use evidence to instruct policy.


  • 4 Leo Casey
    · Feb 3, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    First, I read it in the context of the sentence before it, “Philadelphia
    provides no evidence to support private management as an especially effective method of promoting student achievement, but it does not represent a clear test of full private management in a competitive market.”

    What the entire passage says to me is that the authors are cautioning against applying their evidence and the conclusions one could draw from their evidence to all market models, as opposed to the specific Philadelphia experiment, with the particular “diverse providers” model employed there.

    These cautions are actually the sign of careful researchers who are not predisposed to make broad ideological statements, but want to draw narrow conclusions that can be unequivocally supported by the evidence. Compare that to the writings of laissez-faire market enthusiasts like Caroline Hoxby, Jay Greene and Terry Moe.

  • 5 phyllis c. murray
    · Feb 4, 2007 at 8:17 am

    The Tragedy of an Education Deferred
    By Phyllis C. Murray

    Robert F. Kennedy said the following in 1963 before visiting Farmville, Virginia : “We may observe with much sadness and irony that, outside of Africa, south of the Sahara, where education is still a difficult challenge, the only places on earth known not to provide free public education are Communist China, North Viet Nam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras – and Prince Edward County, Virginia. Something must be done about Prince Edward County.”

    Something was done about Prince Edward County. Of course it took the legal action of the Brown v Board case to get it done. Yet, in New Orleans a problem persists: the disenfranchisement of the poor and minorities. The following was captured in the news:

    “Just last week, 300 New Orleans school children were shut out of schools and denied an education they badly need because the city says it doesn’t have enough space or teachers. So, instead of studying in classrooms, 300 students are sitting at home waiting for space to open up in schools.” James Parks AFL-CIO Weblog January 30, 2007

    Thus,we must reiterate what Leo Casey has stated on February 1,2007:

    “The first district is New Orleans, where the Bush US Department of Education and the Louisiana governor used the devastation caused by Katrina as an opportunity to dismantle the public school system. Like everything else that the Bush administration has done in post-Katrina New Orleans, the result was a manmade catastrophe on top of the natural disaster.”

    It is inconceivable to think that there are children in this great nation who are missing out on an education. And if something is not done very soon, history will repeat itself.

    History teaches us that the students of Prince Edward County were denied the benefits of a public education in Prince Edward County from 1959 – 1964. For five years the public schools were closed . Hence, the black students who remained in Prince Edward County were not afforded the benefits of any formal education. Therefore as Susan Bagby, Longwood College explains:

    “The students who lost five years of public education, have been variously dubbed “the lost generation” and “the crippled generation” by reporters and researchers studying the long-term effects of educational deprivation.”

    It is sad to say, but true, the white students who could not afford to attend the segregated private schools were also a part of the lost generation and crippled generation. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the problems that any member of our society faces become everyone’s problem. And these problems will impact our society for generations to come.

    An education should not be deferred. Furthermore, all of the legislators who ran on a platform of educational equity and access must be summoned back to the legislature to map out a plan to get the disenfranchised students back in school. Surely, the education of all children must be a national priority and not another national tragedy.