Although Georgia did not get chosen for the first round of federal Race to the Top funding, the Peach State is moving ahead of the reform pack as state and local officials turn increasingly to for-profit firms to help expand the state’s charter school network.
Last month, Main Street Academy, a charter school that plans to serve more than 600 students in the Atlanta suburbs of College Park, East Point, and Hapeville, was finally approved after three years of attempts.
“Main Street Academy will open this fall,” says Carol Shaginaw, parent and founder of the school.
“We were sweating kindergarten; the schools in our area don’t do so hot,” said David Shaginaw, a founding committee member of Main Street Academy. “We were going to make a run for it and move to a decent district, but we decided that we had to do something about the schools in our neighborhood. Our kids deserve quality schools.”
Charter Met Community Demand
The Shaginaws found they were not alone. Many of their neighbors expressed similar opinions, also debating whether to move or invest in a private school. By 2007 a group of parents formed a committee to research the idea for a charter school.
After being denied twice by the state charter agency, the Main Street charter committee partnered with EdisonLearning, a for-profit education management organization (EMO).
“The parents sought the new charter school because they were looking for an option, aside from the local public schools, for their children’s education,” said EdisonLearning spokesman Michael Serpe. “It is their leadership that has been instrumental in this new school.”
Founded nearly 20 years ago, EdisonLearning operates more than 120 schools in 25 states, including five in Georgia. EdisonLearning works with traditional public schools, charter schools, and private organizations such as the Main Street Academy group.
EdisonLearning’s academic program has brought strong gains in reading and math. In Georgia, where Edison has operated for seven years, the organization’s schools have experienced nearly a 20 point increase in the proportion of students testing at grade level in reading and almost a 25 point increase in math.
In a satisfaction survey, EdisonLearning earned above 80 percent parent approval, compared to 67 percent for traditional public schools.
Serpe says EdisonLearning’s approach is to ensure high-quality curriculum and high expectations for students by creating an effective learning environment through classroom management training and tools for teachers; using new technology in classrooms and virtual schools; and providing training and support for school leaders.
Georgia Granting New Charters
Georgia had 120 charter schools as of 2009. The Georgia Charter School Commission authorized nine new charter schools last year, including seven scheduled to open in time for the 2010-11 academic year.
“This will allow even more students, parents, and communities the opportunity to have more quality public educational options,” said Tony Roberts, chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.
Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is an education policy analyst at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.