Why do public school districts hire the Edison Project? A study of privatization, decision making, and reform

Charlene Marie Jordan, Fordham University


Since the publication of A Nation at Risk over 20 years ago, school districts across the country have been implementing reform initiatives aimed at improving student achievement, with minimal results. The NCLB Act of 2001 has increased the pressure on school districts and this legislation has significant implications for the future of public schools. Proponents of school reform advocate a restructuring of the current educational system and more of an opportunity for school choice, including the privatization of public schools through Educational Management Organizations (EMOs). This study examines the reasons, goals, and expectations that lead public school districts to hire the Edison Schools Project. A multi-site case study approach was utilized and elite interviews were conducted to determine common trends and recurring themes in the decision making of the 4 districts involved in the research. Interviews with the critical actors provide information on the conditions leading to the choice of Edison as the EMO, the process used to inform and involve constituencies, the reaction of the stakeholders, specifics of the contracts, and the evaluation process. Several recurring themes emerged during this research. The many similarities between the 3 small districts and large urban district include evidence that the superintendent is key in the decision making process to contract with Edison, but the principal assumes the most significant role in implementing the Edison/school partnership. All the districts utilize a thin management approach and retain control over staffing. The districts are all focused on student achievement and are drawn to Edison's research based approaches to instruction and assessment. All of the districts emphasized the importance of the partnership and the positive relationship with the Edison staff. Contracting out for instructional services is a fairly new concept and there are still no conclusive studies that Edison produces an increased rate of student achievement that surpasses traditional public schools. However, the findings of this research indicate that there is a significant role for EMOs, such as Edison, as school districts continue to struggle with their efforts to improve student performance through the implementation of research based curricula, assessment systems, and ongoing professional development.

Subject Area

School administration|School finance

Recommended Citation

Jordan, Charlene Marie, "Why do public school districts hire the Edison Project? A study of privatization, decision making, and reform" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3166572.