Ohio experience raises concerns about Indiana ‘turnaround school operator’

Another warning has been sounded about the Indiana Department of Education’s proposal to hand management of “failing” schools over to for-profit EdisonLearning – and from an unexpected source.

Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, writes on Flypaper, the organization’s blog, that Edison hasn’t delivered on improving results at two charter schools that it manages in Dayton.

The Fordham Institute, of course, isn’t some anti-charter, anti-reform organization. It is a longtime supporter of school choice, charter schools, education entrepreneurship and high-stakes accountability. In fact it authorizes charter schools in Ohio, including the Edison schools in Dayton.

“Fordham president Chester E. Finn Jr. helped launch Edison in the early 1990s, and Fordham has served as authorizer of the two Dayton schools operated by Edison since 2005,” Ryan writes. “These two schools have been in operation for nearly a decade, and despite declining enrollment that resembles a ski slope … have received more than $93.5 million in public funding. Yet after all that time and money, one school’s academic performance is middling at best; the other has struggled mightily to deliver students to even basic levels of achievement.”

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett announced last month that the Department of Education had selected Edison, Charter Schools USA, and EdPower as “turnaround operators” to potentially take over seven Indiana schools that have been stuck on academic probation. The department claims the three were selected through a rigorous Request for Proposals process.

You would think a rigorous selection process would include checking out Edison’s record in neighboring Ohio. Or maybe not.

“The only Hoosier who I spoke to about our experience with Edison was Scott Elliott at the Indianapolis Star,” Ryan said in response to an email query.

Ryan said he doesn’t know how Edison’s “weak to mediocre” performance with Dayton charter schools will translate to turnaround efforts in Indiana. “But I’d strongly urge Indiana officials to keep serious pressure on Edison to deliver everything they promise,” he told School Matters. “I’d also urge outside groups to pay close attention to whether or not Edison — and any other groups brought in to turn around schools — actually deliver.”

The State Board of Education is expected to decide Aug. 29-30 which of the schools will be taken over, and by which turnaround operator.