FRONTliNE: PUbliC SCHOOlS, INC

Article excerpt

TUlENkO, J. FRONTliNE: PUbliC SCHOOlS, INC. , 2003, NEW YORk: PBS VidEO 60 MINUTES, COlOR, ClOSE-CApTioNEd $19.98 fOR HOME USE, $59.95 fOR SCHOOl USE (iNClUdES pUbliC pERfORMANCE RiGHTS)

A charismatic visionary, Chris Whittle believed he could make American public schools world class and also make a profit. This film paints a picture of the promises and downfalls of his controversial Edison schools as well as Whittle's own journey. Interviews with educators, administrators, and parents provide perspectives on the debate about Edison Schools' philosophy and results and in the process chronicle the difficulty of undertaking significant educational reform.

This film raises many important questions about the privatization of schools, showing some advantages and balancing these both with an examination of Edison's failures as well as philosophical arguments against profit-based schools from experts Ted Sizer and Henry Levin from Columbia Teachers' College. The academic success brought to failing schools such as Montebello in Baltimore-which went from one of the lowest-performing schools to a blue-ribbon school-provide room for intriguing counterarguments. Equally interesting sub-themes of the film are leadership, organizational change, community protest, and the power of teachers' unions.

The Edison Project's first contract to manage schools was awarded in Wichita in 1995. Edison Schools, which offer a longer school day and year, incentive pay for teachers and principals, the explicit teaching of values, active learning, and individual learning plans for each student, were met with enthusiasm in Kansas. The Kansas story revealed initial student success, teachers as believers, and schools "bursting at the seams" in the first few years. Later, test scores plummeted and the schools began to lose trust in the Edison Project's commitment to helping them solve problems instead of spending time recruiting more schools for profit.

Indeed the constant Wall Street pressure to recruit more schools to make the company profitable led Whittle and Benno Schmidt, former Yale President and now head of the Edison Project, to approach the beleaguered Philadelphia school system in the Spring of 2002. …