Privatizing Hartford's Schools Low Test Scores, High Dropout Rate Spur Consideration of Private Management for Connecticut City's Schools

By Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 25, 1994 | Go to article overview

Privatizing Hartford's Schools Low Test Scores, High Dropout Rate Spur Consideration of Private Management for Connecticut City's Schools


Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE public schools in Hartford, Conn., have the full range of problems facing urban classrooms throughout the United States: shrinking financial resources, deteriorating facilities, and an influx of poor immigrant children - few of whom speak English.

Hartford's students ranked lowest in the state after Connecticut's most recent round of standardized mastery tests. The school dropout rate, which had declined a bit, is heading upwards again.

It's little wonder the city's Board of Education is open to new ideas, and the idea currently seizing its attention is privatization. The board is in the early stages of exploring a deal with Education Alternatives Inc., a Minneapolis-based firm known for its management of a dozen public schools in Baltimore.

"There are serious problems to be addressed, and the traditional ways haven't produced the desired results," says Annette Markham, administrator for the Hartford school board. The option of a business arrangement with EAI is being carefully weighed, she says, quickly adding that a final decision is still a ways off.

Contrary to some reports in the press, says Ms. Markham, the school board is not ready to jump into EAI's arms. The Hartford officials want a trip to Baltimore to examine the schools run by the company there, and they also want further public forums at which Hartford residents can air their questions and concerns.

The most vocal concerns to privately run public schools, in Hartford and elsewhere, come from the unions whose members staff the schools. Both of the nation's teacher unions - the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - have attacked private management of public education, in general, and EAI's record, in particular.

The AFT recently released a report saying the test scores of pupils in the Baltimore schools run by the company have declined in comparison with those of students in that city's traditionally managed institutions. But those conclusions have been disputed by school administrators in Baltimore.

"This is the first full year we can say our kids have been part of the Tesseract instructional model," says Donna Franks, a Baltimore public-schools spokesperson.

"Tesseract" is an educational program developed by EAI that emphasizes a "personal education plan" for each student, based on students' individual ways of learning.

Three or four years are needed to assess how the program is doing, says Ms. Franks. The company's five-year contract with Baltimore schools began in July 1992. "First-year tests may go down as everyone adjusts to a new system," Franks says.

Criticisms of EAI reach beyond the question of student performance, however. Judy Behnke directs the NEA's Center for the Preservation of Public Education. "We are opposed to for-profit companies coming in and running public schools," she says. …

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