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By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
Then-superintendent Bill Rojas tried one last-ditch controversial move: handing the school over to be privately managed by Edison Schools, Inc., in 1998. The company had been founded six years earlier by entrepreneur Chris Whittle, best known as the creator of Channel One News, which leased TVs to public schools to broadcast a daily teencentric news program — and its commercials — to students. With his new charter management company, Whittle claimed that by applying economies of scale and labor efficiency to schools, he could make a profit from the money the government serves up for students while improving test scores.
The idea was blasphemous to the public education establishment, but won praise from school reformers and free-market conservatives. They figured if Whittle could have success where bureaucracy and union-laden school districts had failed, well, why not let the guy profit? Gap founder Don Fisher even donated $25 million for Edison to expand into California, where low per-student spending wasn't exactly a draw for profit seekers.
But teachers at San Francisco's Edison Academy say the charter agreement was based on a backroom deal. "Rojas wanted that place off his hands," Spiegel says. She says an assistant to Rojas as well as the school principal intimidated the teachers into signing the charter petition. (Applying for a charter requires gathering signatures from 51 percent of the teachers who would be teaching at the new school.)
Since much of the staff were permanent substitutes, rehired by the district each year, many felt they'd lose their jobs if they refused. Spiegel refused and quit. Even after signing, many other teachers left anyway or were thrown out after Edison took over, says Sanchez. "In my eyes, it was an illegal charter," he says.
Either way, decisions at this local school now came from New York. The school would send every penny in tax dollars it got to the company, which provided all management services and instituted the "Edison design." This involved regular student tests to measure improvement; a scripted reading curriculum called Success for All; increased prep time for teacher collaboration; and extensive art programming and world languages classes that were rarely seen in district-run schools. Edison also lengthened the school day by 90 minutes, and the school year by two weeks. Many teachers quit, complaining of overwork. Still, Edison Academy's test scores — while remaining low compared to the district average — started to rise.
Yet the district was unimpressed, and a progressive majority was voted into office in 2000 on a platform to revoke Edison's charter. School board president Jill Wynns visited the school in the late '90s: "One thing I saw that was disturbing was kids walking in lines with their hands behind their backs chanting mantras they had to say," she says. Wynns, backed by commissioners Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez (the former Edison teacher), blasted the for-profit model and ordered a district investigation. They said Edison's rising test scores simply mirrored rising scores across the city. They also accused the school of "counseling out" low-performing kids, especially African-American and special education students, while attracting the children of parents engaged enough to make an active school choice. (Parents must directly enroll students in charters, rather than allowing the district's lottery system choose for them.)
The national press stepped in to cover the imbroglio, tending to take sides along clear political lines. Liberal The Nation railed against Edison; the libertarian Reason framed the debate as a jealous school district preferring failure for all students instead of a company succeeding with some.
Enter Bonnie Senteno, an outspoken and über-involved mother with a chola-style Virgin de Guadalupe tattooed on her ankle. She was among the parents who showed up with "Save our School" posters at the school board meetings where the commissioners discussed revoking Edison's charter. She says she didn't even know the school was for-profit at the time, just that the teachers were great and her son, Jack, was thriving. "For the district to close down a school where they were working hard and getting good results was a little crazy for me," she says.
Still, the district ignored the parents. Edison threatened years of litigation if the district revoked the school's charter, so the school board settled on not renewing it, opening the door for the school to appeal to the state Board of Education. Given that the state board was stacked in 2001 with pro-charter commissioners, Edison scored its new contract easily. But a couple of months afterward, state test scores gave the naysayers the power of told-you-so: Edison's scores had dropped from the year before, making it the dead-last elementary school in the city on the Academic Performance Index.
Years passed, and though its test scores showed slow progress, Edison Charter Academy remained in the bottom half of the district's elementary schools. The Noe Valley school with a Spanish Mission facade became an island apart from the school district, relations reduced to a rent check and resentment.
The district couldn't win against Edison the company. But Edison the school was gearing up for a fight itself.
Behind school doors, teachers were finding Edison to be a top-down bureaucracy as onerous as any school district. Catherine Cook was hired in 2004 into what she calls "the dark years." "They just burn you out," she says. "They didn't give you any creativity or freedom in your classroom. It was top down and directives — they'd be like, 'Scrap that and let's try this,' and we had no input."
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I have some questions this article doesn't answer:
1. Are all students being charged for lunch if they choose to purchase it? One of the reasons SFUSD is serving what their cafeterias serve is the huge cost of meals vs. state and federal reimbursements.2. What is the per-pupil funding at this school? Is it higher than that of SFUSD's non-charter schools? The added costs described in the article can't be explained by teachers taking a $5,000 pay cut alone.3. What is the cost of teacher benefits at the school? They are reported to be "superior" to those SFUSD is offering. If so, that salary cut may not amount to any savings whatsoever.4. How are the demographics of the school changing? I doubt the current Kindergarten class looks much like older classes at the school.
Frankly, this appears to be an article that unfavorably compares public schools to a charter school with no particular justification. There are issues with even this non-Edison Edison.
Answers from an ECA teacher:1. Are all students being charged if they purchase lunch? Not sure what you mean- of course if they "purchase" lunch they get charged- if they have not qualified for free/reduced then they pay for it, if they have qualified for free/reduced then we get the reimbursement but you must not be aware that even SFUSD can go with Revolution Foods or New Era Foods and get reimbursed exactly their costs of breakfast and lunches. As a public school we get exactly the same reimbursement amounts as your school per student.2. Per pupil funding is exactly the same. You must not understand that we are a public school exactly as you are. Everything is exactly the same with regards to funding, accountability, etc. Call your SFUSD Charter School Office and ask them and they will confirm. In fact, SFUSD now holds our charter. As was stated in the article- we are over the 'old history' that some cling to and look forward to developing a strong bond with SFUSD. We already partner with several schools, some charter and some non-charter and have a great relationship with the SFUSD high schools that many of our kids attend.3. "Salary cut?" "Cost of teacher benefits"? Not sure again of the question but I'll try to answer- since we are a small school, not part of a large district, we pay more for our deductibles for PPO health insurance (but we can choose Kaiser and be on par with SFUSD). We have slightly lower salaries but have not had a salary cut ever. I don't know the numbers but I would guess our salary difference/benefits probably equals out and does not amount to a "savings". Not sure that the school is even trying to get a "savings" in that area- did the article say that? I'd have to go back and check.4. Why would you doubt the kinder looks like the older classes? Go on line and look at our website or the demographics reported at the CDE website- we are majority Latino- how could our 80 kinders (the article reported we have 4 classes of 20 kids) not reflect the same demographics of our older kids? And since it also pointed out that our families are generational, with siblings, parents, cousins all attending here throughout the years, why would our kinder population suddenly look different? We are always reaching for diversity so we are actually increasing in other demographics each year but the majority has not changed and the kinder classes still reflect that.
It was NOT the intent of any Edison Charter School employees to present or support an article which unfavorably "compares public schools to charter schools" since we made it a point- as our principal said in the article to remind everyone that CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS! And we are part of SFUSD! Trying to make things better for ALL kids! Not take anything away from anyone. Hopefully, that old fashioned attitude will pass and all kids can benefit from whatever schools suit them best! And finally, you are right in saying "there are issues"....in this economy of cuts and lack of educational support by government, there certainly are issues at our school just like all schools! In my humble opinion, the article was more aimed at how great it is that we are going to be a REAL public community school, a part of SFUSD, not managed by some FOR PROFIT company...and I would think SFUSD teachers would be celebrating that.
You're eliding the food issue in a big way. Revolution Foods costs more, as even the Weekly article points out. That money's coming from somewhere. Where? Edison did not respond to the state survey of charter schools and FRPL programs.
Moreover, it is in fact the case that charter schools regularly have more per-pupil funding than regular public schools. There are some state programs that tend to have that effect, but more often in is through reaching out to the educrat community.
Demographics cannot increase. They can change, though. I suspect that Edison has a growing white student community and that economic diversity is increasing as well. Your comment certainly suggests that.
The article states that the lower teacher salaries (but better benefits) fund extra programs at Edison. It seems financially impossible, but the money is coming from somewhere.
"Colorblindness...."? I am Mexican, born there- raised on a farm on the border, and went into the military to pay for college, now I'm a teacher- "privilege"? I guess I am a "colorblind" person of color. I tried to answer your questions, you asked more- I'm busy preparing for my kids coming in August, again, are you not? I'm asking you again- what school? Such good test scores and programs that you're concerned with mine? What's your secret? Defensive? Yep- I'll defend our school to anyone!
My interest in engaging with you ended with the spurious accusation of racism. Colorblindness is a benefit of privilege. Moreover, again: I'm asking you quite specific questions, and you're encouraging me to do more work to find the answers. I don't see how you're helping me understand; you are far too defensive to do that.
Seriously E. Rat? I'm REALLY trying to help you understand in order to be helpful but maybe you should come and just visit our campus next school year. You seem, hopefully, to be VERY interested in our school. Yes, Rev Foods costs more, maybe our kitchen employees are more efficient and we hire less of them? I don't know, I'm sure you could investigate further- our doors are open. According to our admin (I just checked) they had until June 30 to respond to the state survey and have done so. Not sure why you don't have the current data. Again, stop by, we'll show it to you, provide it. What's with this "growing white community"? You seem to be unfortunately fixated on the color of children and enforcing that difference. We simply work with all kids equally- and I encourage you again to keep up with our full disclosure each year on demographics to see for yourself that our student's diversity, including economic remains very much the same. Our money comes from the same sources as yours does, and we also work hard to fund raise, like I'm sure your school does. I promise, we're not dipping into your pot or anyone elses! Good luck to you, and remember, our doors are always open, and our reporting is just as public as yours! Happy Summer.
As a parent Edison sounds interesting but not realistic or relevant, I would prefer to see the money directed toward our mainstream public schools. Many of our public school teachers go above and beyond the call of duty everyday, they are spending their own money to buy their students pencils and paper. Any public money given to Edison could have been put to better use.
This is a K-8 school that has worked tirelessly to put the right people in place to better the lives of its students...That is what the article is about, the betterment of the lives of hundreds of students at Edison. Just like many district teachers and admins, the folks who lead the way at Edison have not only bought pencils and paper for their students but they have dedicated their lives to this mission.
To say that it is not "realistic or relevant" makes me wonder what is wrong with this world...
Nothing wrong with the world- something wrong with CAmom that she is not happy for the 540 kids and parents being served by that school. What is a "mainstream" public school? One in which there are no arts programs, teacher furloughs, administrative structures that employ twice as many admin/office staff as teachers? No thanks. I'll donate my money to schools like this one.
I am SO thankful as a parent that the VAST majority of educators, parents, community members, and nationwide politicians- including our President of the United States does NOT agree with this E.Rat person. Maybe the user name says something - does it stand for "education RAT?". Also, what school does this person work for? I wonder how their test scores are? Do they have all of the arts programs in tact? Are they an excelling school? Because this "teacher" seems to have a LOT of time on their hands to question, investigate, and say "does not work for me" but I have not heard a single solution or statement saying something is working better at their school? Hmmmmm. Maybe THAT's what's wrong at some other SFUSD schools......sounds like the Edison people are busy working to solve their own problems, and minding their own business to make things better for kids! Thanks!
You know, the "We ARE a public school" rationale doesn't really work for me. Charter schools - overwhelmingly no more successful than real public schools - take money and energy away from the system that most students are in.
They function as a lead-in for corporate and political interests that I believe are harmful to education for all.
They have a notorious overall record of counseling out, cherry-picking, underenrolling students with special needs, and economic corruption.
I'm happy that a very small number of students are having a good experience, but charters make schooling worse for everyone else. That's a problem.
Hi E.Rat, I teach at Edison Charter Academy and will be glad to answer your questions in the other post but to reply to this one- we ARE also part of SFUSD at Edison since the district now holds our charter. We ARE also located in the city so are a "city school". Our students are from the same neighborhoods as other SFUSD kids who go to other SFUSD schools. So how are we operating at the "expense of other children in SFUSD"? We simply offer different options. Why would you, as an educator who cares about kids, object to that? Why would you object to anything the other SFUSD schools- charter and non-charter - choose to offer on their sites when it benefits kids? We are all in the same "limited pot".
I teach at a school in SFUSD, and I can't figure out where all those administrators are hiding at our site.
There is real reason to question the success and the record of this school and its community - if that school's perks are taking away from other the very limited pot available to city schools. I'd argue that those perks are coming at the expense of other children in SFUSD.
Interesting comment. Please clarify how money from the state is better spent at a public school, compared to being spent at a chartered school like Edison. Also, for the record, Edison is a public school operating under a chartered school format.
I would like to suggest that the point of this article is about the will and motivation of a group of individuals to turn around the reputation of their school. Edison has made great improvements over the past ten years, and much of the progress is due to the character of their faculty and their hard work and dedication.
Teachers should not be expected to take pay cuts to further the progress of their school, but Edison did that. They took initiative and made sacrifices to keep their school open, and on a trend of improvement. I don't doubt that the motivation of public schools is any different, but they are forced to make changes on a much broader scale that affect schools other than just their own. The chartered school infrastructure enabled Edison to maintain all of the programs parents and children want from a school.
God bless all of our teachers, public, private, or chartered.
I am proud to know many of the teachers at Edison. I have seen them go above and beyond the call of duty year in and year out. Fiesta Day Familia, College Campus tours, The 'Folkloric Dance Club' and more, are all pet projects of the faculty. They receive no funding or stipend for the extra time they commit to their students and school functions. Compared to public schools that are lucky if they still have PE and art, Edison offers art, dance, music, drama, and many other after school programs. Their school faces more opposition than most as noted in the article, but the faculty are able to overcome that with compassion and hard work. It is now the norm at Edison for teachers to brainstorm ideas for after school dances or school-wide yard sales to fundraise. Ideas blossom quickly at Edison and it is a great place for kids.
Edison Charter is throwing an event on Sunday, July 17th to support their Sport program!
Check out the eventbrite page - http://stepuptotheplate.eventb...
Lets make this event a huge success!
During the days when the media spotlight was focused on the battle between Edison Inc. and SFUSD, starting in 2001, I helped create and run a volunteer research-and-information project on Edison. So I need to correct some of Smiley's history of the Edison-SFUSD conflict.
She is inaccurate in referring to "high-profile attacks from the school district" on Edison.
In early 2001, the Board of Ed moved to begin the process that might lead to severing its contract with Edison Inc., which might or might not be described as an "attack," as opposed to responsible governance. But the reason the conflict was "high-profile" was that the Edison Corp. itself chose to fight back furiously in both the courts and the national (even international) media -- and the media was astoundingly obliging in responding to Edison's bids for coverage. SFUSD was subjected to a bizarre flurry of media coverage, including a scathing editorial in the Wall Street Journal (January 2001) and an inaccuracy-laden Page 1 story in the New York Times (March 2001), picked up in the International Herald Tribune – and much more. That glare of publicity was generated by Edison, not SFUSD.
One of the Edison actions that attracted my and other activists' attention, by the way, was the fact that the company sent the media false claims about its test scores in San Francisco.
Smiley said: "As soon as progressives got a majority on the school board, they "went after [Edison] with a pitchfork," as one charter lobbyist puts it. The board drew national media attention by revoking the school's permission to operate in the city."
Actually, the most stalwart and well-informed Edison critics on the BOE at that time were Dan Kelly and Jill Wynns, both considered moderate -- with support from new board members viewed as to their left. The board moved to begin the process that could end in severing its contract with Edison, and as noted, Edison chose to fight back in both the media and the courts. The battle ended in the compromise of Edison's becoming a state charter.
Another key point -- which should have been included in all the media coverage of that time as well as in Smiley's account -- is that Edison's very first client school district – Sherman, Texas – had already severed its Edison contract without attracting media attention, and a number of Edison's other client districts were in the process of doing the same thing SFUSD was – making moves to end the Edison contract. (These included Goldsboro, N.C.; Lansing, Mich.; Wichita, Kansas; Boston; and more.) For whatever reason – likely San Francisco's “land of fruits and nuts” image – Edison Inc. chose to fight its media war against SFUSD exclusively.
Pre-privatization, the Edison School was known as a dumping ground for the district's most challenging students – a situation many viewed as a setup by then-Superintendent Bill Rojas to open the door to privatization. Rojas left SFUSD under a cloud (a number of his deputies were investigated and prosecuted over financial shenanigans) and went to head the Dallas school district, where he brought in as many Edison schools has he could before being fired. (Dallas severed its contract with Edison as well shortly thereafter.)
All those other dissatisfied client districts had the same complaints SFUSD did: dumping of challenging students on other schools, low achievement given that cherry-picking situation, and higher costs than projected. Edison also engaged in a bizarre client-relations strategy: As soon as it signed a contract with a new client and opened a school, it began sending out press releases bashing its client's other schools and touting its own as superior, often (as in SFUSD) using false test score claims. Attacking one's own clients is generally not viewed as a wise business practice in rest of the private sector, so the thinking behind that practice was unclear.
It's resoundingly inaccurate that the Nation “railed against Edison.” In a bizarre departure for both the publication and the author of the article, public-education advocate Peter Schrag, a long feature in the Nation that spring praised Edison Charter Academy as a success -- its point being that the school cost more and that it was showing that better education requires more funding. Presumably Smiley didn't read that article, which I have yellowing in a box in my garage.
After the state charterization, Edison's relationship with the district was limited to landlord-tenant, so the notion that there was an ongoing battle is inaccurate. The district took little notice of the school, outside the Real Estate Department.
I'm happy to clear up these inaccuracies; it's too bad Smiley didn't ask me or someone else involved at that time to go over these details with her before the story ran.