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chris whittle

An ambitious and controversial entrepreneur, Whittle took the educational establishment by storm in 1992 when he founded Edison Schools Inc. (originally the Edison Project), a for-profit company specializing in public school management. He believes that America needs to spend "serious money" on research and development of its educational system, and that one way to get that money is by running schools that generate a profit, which can be channeled back into improving the system. Critics say his money-making model will always put the bottom line ahead of the children. He was interviewed by FRONTLINE in October and December 2002.

benno schmidt

President of Yale University from 1986 to 1992 and a former dean of Columbia University Law School, Schmidt is chairman of Edison Schools. His decision to leave Yale and join Edison gave Chris Whittle's fledgling venture much-needed credibility at the time. In this interview, Schmidt explains what drew him to Whittle and how their working relationship has evolved. He defends the company's vision of for-profit public education. There is "only one measure" of whether Edison is "a good thing," he tells FRONTLINE, "and that's are we doing a good job for the children." This interview was conducted in September 2002.

ted sizer

A prominent thinker on education reform, Sizer is opposed to the for-profit privatization of public schools because, he argues, the interests of investors will necessarily come before those of students. While in favor of more choice and of better-designed schools, he says the answer is not "to drown the public sector and replace it with a for-profit sector," but rather to reform the public sector itself. Sizer is a professor emeritus at Brown University and former dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, where he is currently a visiting professor. He founded the Coalition of Essential Schools in 1984 and has served as its chairman and as head of one of its charter schools. He has also served as headmaster of the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and is founding director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. This interview was conducted in December 2002.

henry levin

Levin is a professor of economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. From 1986 to 2000, Levin served as the director of the Accelerated Schools Project, a national school-reform initiative for accelerating the education of children in at-risk communities. A close observer of Edison Schools and other for-profit school management companies, he explains why he believes Edison's business model, which depends on achieving economies of scale, was fundamentally flawed from the start. He also discusses how the for-profit privatization movement got started and what he thinks its impact has been, and might still be, on public education. This interview was conducted in June 2002.

steven wilson

Currently a senior fellow at the Center for Business and Government at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a former special assistant for strategic planning for Massachusetts Governor William Weld, Wilson is the former chairman and CEO of Advantage Schools, an urban education management company that merged with Mosaica Education to become the second-largest operator of charter schools in the country. In this interview, he offers his assessment of what the privatization movement can bring to public education, the challenges facing Edison Schools, and the political forces arrayed against it. "We have to ask, who are [Edison schools] excoriated by? They're not excoriated by urban parents who sign up to them in droves. They are not excoriated by the teachers who work in them. They are excoriated perhaps only by the entrenched education interests who are powerful voices in American politics." Wilson was interviewed by FRONTLINE in December 2002.

winston brooks

Brooks is the superintendent of the Wichita public school system. In this interview, he describes the Wichita school board's decision to revoke Edison's contract. He says that although the schools Edison ran in Wichita showed improvement in test scores, the gains were comparable to non-Edison schools in the district. Brooks tells FRONTLINE that the decision to terminate Edison "was basically made on the fact that we think we can do it cheaper and we can do it just as well, if not better." He says that they will probably keep some components of the Edison model in the school system, but by severing its relationship with the company, the district expects to save half of a million dollars per year. This interview was conducted in December 2002.

sarah horsey

Horsey is the principal at Edison's Montebello Elementary School in Baltimore, Md. She says that she was so excited about Edison's promise of "a world-class education for all students" that she came out of retirement to take the job at Montebello. In this interview she describes several factors that she believes set Edison apart from other schools, including the curriculum, the level of community involvement, and teacher training. "The message is clear," she says. "The kids are happy. ... We are making a difference." This interview was conducted in October 2002.

 

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published july 3, 2003

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