Philadelphia schools — now run by a mix of public and private managers — are improving, concludes a study by Rand and Research for Action. However, progress in Philadelphia matched progress in other low-performing schools in the state, says the report. Privately managed schools did not improve more than district-run schools. The report’s co-authors write:
So many different reforms have been implemented in Philadelphia since 2002 that it is impossible to clearly identify which ones may be responsible for the achievement gains of the district as a whole.
Our own conclusion is that competition from private managers is unlikely to be a major factor in student achievement gains, because private management was not implemented in a way designed to promote competitive effects. In particular, private management did not include a regime of open parental choice of schools.
Reform advocates say the report underestimates the public-private model’s successes. In the Inquirer, Charles Zogby, former state secretary of education now a K12 executive, complains that the report reads like an autopsy of a patient brought back from death.
. . . the authors glossed over what should have been their most fundamental finding: In the five years since state and local officials worked together to create the School Reform Commission, academic performance in Philadelphia’s public schools literally has catapulted upward. After decades of stagnation, learning success rates in the last five years have doubled, tripled and, in some cases, quadrupled.
Paul Peterson questions the study’s methodology, pointing out that private managers took over the city’s worst schools, which were scoring well below the already low citywide average. The column is available only to Wall St. Journal subscribers,