Teachers resented the Success for All curriculum, which taught reading through a series of technical exercises. "You could see the kids were bored to death," Cook says. Worse, it wasn't up to California's standards.

Then there were the cost-saving measures designed to help Edison make a profit. The company would sometimes lag in ordering school necessities like paper, and classrooms would run out. The school tended to hire first-year teachers, 80 percent of whom would dash at the end of the year along with many administrators, Cook says. With no recruiting effort by out-of-town management, the school's enrollment dwindled. The teachers finally organized into a union in 2005, so they could have more of a say in decisions.

Nationally, the decade-old company was suffering major woes as it learned that running public schools wasn't so profitable after all. The feds found the company had misstated its revenue in 2001, and Edison showed a profit for just one quarter in 2003 during the four years it was publicly traded. Eventually the company downgraded its mission from Whittle's original plan of operating 1,000 schools to offering educational software.

At a time that district-run schools are cutting arts programs, Edison ensures all its students get art, drama, music, and dance classes.
Jean-Philippe Dobrin
At a time that district-run schools are cutting arts programs, Edison ensures all its students get art, drama, music, and dance classes.

Senteno, the mother who had defended Edison during the fight to renew its charter, started to change her opinion when she signed on as a volunteer at the afterschool program in 2004. She was working as a federal government contractor evaluating programs under the No Child Left Behind Act, and turned her eye to Edison. She learned that there was no designated curriculum to target English learners. She also noticed that while her son, Jack, would ace all the Edison benchmark tests, his scores on the California standardized tests were merely average. Obviously, there was a disconnect, and little room for parental input to change anything. "As a parent, I'd bring all the exciting things I'd seen [on the job] back," she says. "We were always kind of prevented from implementing them because they didn't fit in with the Edison design."

The proverbial final straw was when Senteno and a group of parents on the school's parent teacher committee won a $150,000 state grant to fund a free afterschool program in 2007. But the charter academy's decisionmaking board — composed of pro-Edison parents and community members — wouldn't accept the money, saying EdisonLearning was miffed that the parents hadn't followed proper protocol. "I'm like, what is wrong with you people?" Senteno says. Over a couple of months, she and other parents kept showing up at board meetings and wore them down about accepting the money. Faced with growing resistance, three of the board members left. "I kind of felt it was like, 'If you're so big, you run the school, you be on the board,' so I was like, 'Fine,'" Senteno recalls. She became the president in 2007.

Senteno examined the school's contract with Edison, which had been automatically renewed uncontested by the board in 2005 for another five years. The basics: Edison would front the school's costs and then bill the school. Any "profits" left over at the end of the school year from tax dollars had to be sent to Edison. Senteno estimates this ended up being $250,000 to $400,000 a year. "My feeling was why don't we bring that back into the building and create programs relevant to the needs of our kids?" she says.

The new board started to pull away from Edison, renegotiating the five-year contract down to three, during which the school would pay the company a flat monthly fee and return it only a single-digit percentage of the leftover revenue at the end of the year, leaving the rest for the school to spend as it saw fit. Senteno penned a declaration of independence of sorts to the company in June 2009, announcing that the school would terminate its contract at the end of the impending school year. When Ed Kriete, a vice president at Wells Fargo, succeeded her in early 2010, the board seriously began considering the options: returning to the school district, renewing with Edison, hiring a nonprofit charter organization, or going independent. Teachers overwhelmingly voted in favor of going indie, and the board hired Great Schools Workshop, a now-defunct school consulting firm, to help it shed Edison in February 2010.

EdisonLearning spokesman Michael Serpe says the company doesn't mind schools leaving — it has obviously had some practice, now that its portfolio of around 120 managed schools has gone down to 40 nationwide. "We refer to it as graduating," he says. "Our long-term goal is not to work there forever." ("I would consider us Edison dropouts, but whatever," Senteno rebukes.) Indeed, Kriete says company reps had a very different message. They told him the school couldn't run without them, and that they would do everything to make the school fail. "They didn't want the publicity out there that we can leave their organization and be successful, if not more successful," he says. The doomsday message made some board members jittery enough to leave during the transition.

Still, Kriete, Senteno, and others pushed forward. Finally, EdisonLearning terminated the management agreement in the middle of spring term. The abrupt transition was like a "messy divorce," Kriete says, with Edison's board being the party who'd never handled its own pocketbook. The board hired the Edison employee who'd done the in-house finances, who went to the bank to take out a line of credit and insurance. An Edison rep stowed the company's proprietary teaching manuals in her trunk and drove away.

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19 comments
Trade4target
Trade4target

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.RegardsNifty Option Tips

E. Rat
E. Rat

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.

Dothemath
Dothemath

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.

Elementary_Rat
Elementary_Rat

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.

Dothemath
Dothemath

"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!

E. Rat
E. Rat

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.

Guest
Guest

It comes from efficiency, not extra funding.

Dothemath
Dothemath

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.

CAmom
CAmom

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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...

Kate
Kate

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.

Kate
Kate

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!

Elementary_Rat
Elementary_Rat

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.

Dothemath
Dothemath

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".

E. Rat
E. Rat

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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.

TJRice
TJRice

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!

CarolineSF
CarolineSF

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.

 
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