Private Consultants Are Hired to Assist Philadelphia Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellen Sorokin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A group of 12 private consultants were hired this week to help Philadelphia revamp its troubled schools in the country's largest privatization experiment.

Pennsylvania's school-reform commission, which oversees the country's seventh-largest school district, voted Tuesday to award a contract to New York-based Edison Schools Inc. and 11 other similar for-profit companies.

Under the agreement, the firms will review current curriculum, create a plan to improve test scores and find ways to reduce costs in food services. They will also review the district's administration, principal and teacher recruitment and retention, and evaluate classroom behavior management.

The firms, however, will not manage the school system.

"Reform-minded educators across the country have been paying close attention to our historic efforts in Philadelphia, and I have to believe they like what they have seen [on Tuesday]," Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker said in a written statement.

"It means the end of business as usual and ... new and exciting educational resources and expertise, focused squarely on creating a better learning environment."

Anti-privatization groups and some parents and opposed the partnership, saying companies like Edison will only worsen the already troubled school system because the firms don't have enough experience to work in large school districts.

"What experience do they have in determining what curriculum our children need and what teachers should be hired," sad Darlene Battle, vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

"These companies will go in and change the format, and it will be a shock to the children and they will withdraw," Miss Battle said.

Edison Schools is the nation's largest private operator of public schools, with 75,000 students and 136 schools in 22 states, including Nevada, California, Maryland, Texas and Florida. Philadelphia's school system has 265 schools and nearly 220,000 students and a budget of $1. …