Edison Project Schools Show Positive Test Results, Study Says

Published January 1, 1997

Early data show positive test score results for four schools that began operating last fall as part of the Edison Project, an experiment with privately managed public schools.

Kindergarten and first-grade students in two of the Edison Project schools showed significant gains in reading during the 1995-96 school year when compared with control groups. Second-grade students, however, showed no significant differences. The schools are located in Mount Clemens, Michigan, and Wichita, Kansas.

A third Edison school, the Boston Renaissance Charter School, had no control group available for comparison, but its reading results were comparable to those of the other Edison schools and to other schools that use the same reading program, “Success for All.” The fourth Edison Project school, the Washington-Edison School in Sherman, Texas, did not perform as well as its control group, but the control group is believed to be improperly matched.

Edison’s curriculum director, John Chubb, viewed the results as positive and said that the differences in performance “tended to favor Edison.” The results are based on tests conducted by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey. They were interpreted by Robert J. Mislevy, an ETS researcher who acted as a consultant to the Edison Project.

Administrators, teachers, and parents in Wichita all regard the Edison Project school as a success. Wichita Public School Superintendent Larry Vaughn told The New York Times that Edison “promised to educate all kids, to do it to our satisfaction and to do it for the same price we are spending. I can’t think of anything they’ve fallen short on.”

According to Shawn Springer, who teaches first and second grade at the school, “teachers are respected and valued here, and you can see the results. Every parent in my class is glad their kid is here.” The number of students leaving the school during the year dropped from 36 percent in 1994-95 to 7 percent in 1995-96. The school has 320 families on the waiting list, a clear indication that the school is highly regarded by parents.

The Edison Project was started by media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle in 1991. He was joined in 1992 by Benno C. Schmidt Jr., who left the presidency of Yale University to run the program. When Whittle’s company encountered a reversal of fortunes, he was forced to sell the company’s assets by 1995. However, Edison was able to survive by securing an additional $30 million in investor financing to supplement its $45 million in startup funds.