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Report: In Philly, experience running schools beats political savvy

The latest issue of Education Next has a study on Philadelphia’s experiment in having outside groups manage public school. The study, by two Harvard researchers, finds that for-profit school managers, including schools run by the commercial Edison Learning company, ran schools better than both the school district and non-profit groups.

The for-profit vs. nonprofit breakdown does not apply in New York, where all outside support organizations are not-for-profits. But the study’s authors suggest that the variable of real importance might be not the profit motive, but experience:

The two main for-profit providers had much more experience with school management than did any of the nonprofit organizations. The nonprofits seem to have been selected more for their strong political ties than for any history of effectiveness at delivering educational services. Others have reported that newly formed charter schools under both for-profit and nonprofit management appear to become more effective as they gain in experience. That could easily account for the pattern of results reported here.

The Department of Education is evaluating school support organizations as I type. Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern said the results should be out in the spring. He told me he doesn’t predict that outside (PSO) vs. district (LSO) support groups’ performance will follow any clear pattern. “It’s likely to cut both ways,” he said. “Some of the PSO’s will be high-ranking and others will not. It’s going to be hard to draw hard and fast distinctions by SSO type.”

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