Private education company didn't make the grade
Charleston County ends Edison's contract in struggling schools
The Charleston County School District is getting out early from its contract with Edison Schools, a company hired to improve nine struggling schools, because the company didn't produce the academic gains it promised.
The school district has paid the company about $5.8 million since it began working with the district three years ago. The contract with Edison was to expire in June 2009 but instead will end this month. The contract initially was worth a total of $11.1 million.
Former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson hired the company as part of her plan to turn schools around, and the company was supposed to help by providing training for staff, monthly tests to show students' strengths and weaknesses, and curriculum and technology support.
The nine schools initially included in the contract were C.C. Blaney Elementary, E.B. Ellington Elementary, Jane Edwards Elementary, Minnie Hughes Elementary, Schroder Middle and Baptist Hill High schools in the Hollywood area; Brentwood Middle School in North Charleston; and Sanders-Clyde Elementary and Rivers Middle schools downtown. The district removed Rivers Middle from the contract after it reconstituted the school.
The company promised that after two academic years, beginning with the 2004-05 school year, 70 percent of the following goals would be met for the elementary and middle schools: Each school would have a higher rating on the state report card, each school's improvement rating on the state report card would be at least average, and each school would see a 10 percent increase in student proficiency in English and math. Baptist Hill High School was evaluated separately and had to show an 8 percent increase in English and math proficiency.
But based on test results from the 2005-06 school year, the elementary and middle schools failed to meet 64 percent of the goals set forth in the contract, and Baptist Hill did not meet its goal.
The data didn't convince Janet Rose, the district's executive director of assessment and accountability, that Edison had any effect on student achievement. Data was inconsistent for the middle schools and high school, and some of the elementary schools that got better were improving before Edison, she said.
"It's extremely expensive for what you get," Rose said. "It wasn't a complete bust by any means; it just didn't produce strong data that we can attribute to Edison."
New District Superintendent Nancy McGinley said the decision to hire Edison was made before she started working for the district but that Goodloe-Johnson was looking for a catalyst for quick results, and that's what Edison promised.
The district was in a different place than it is now, and the company offered services then that the district wasn't providing, McGinley said. But McGinley said the district now has the resources necessary to work with those schools without Edison.
A more cost-effective measure would be to take the money going to Edison and spend it on other, more helpful items, such as giving each Edison school a coach to work with teachers to provide better instruction, she said.
McGinley recommended last year that Edison support be removed from the middle and high schools because she could see the lack of progress then, but the company had evidence of progress in some elementary schools, and the district didn't end the contract, she said.
"It's not that they weren't effective or weren't helpful," she said, adding that Edison did some good training for principals.
But now, with the district having a tighter budget after absorbing state-mandated costs without state help, "we can't afford that type of contract," she said.
Roberto Gutierrez, Edison Schools' senior vice president for public affairs and communication, touted the company's accomplishments in the district, saying the company took its lowest-performing schools and improved them at twice the rate of comparable schools in the state. He said the company's goal was to teach schools ways to improve, and he hoped those practices would become part of the schools.
When the Charleston County School Board voted unanimously to approve the Edison contract, board Vice Chairman Hillery Douglas made it clear he was voting to support Goodloe-Johnson. If given the choice to vote again, he said he'd vote no.
"I think there has been some success, but we didn't have the overall success that everyone was looking for," he said.
"It was not a total waste. They did some good. I don't know if we got the $6 million worth. ... A lot of times, you don't know how successful something is going to be until you try it."
Edison works with 285,000 students in 19 states. The company had one other contract in South Carolina, with Allendale County to support its four schools, but that district terminated its contract earlier this year.