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teacher with studentsjoin the discussion - What's at stake in the success or failure of Edison Schools? Should for-profit companies be in the business of running public schools?
Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched with great interest your program on Edison and public education. ... A problem with our schools is the lack of competition and bureacrats. Our public schools are run by politicians, not by educators. So I ask this question, what is worse a school run by business people who are seaking a profit or a politician who seaking a name.

Personally I say neither. I would like to see a nonprofit private corporartion similiar to ISO. A company which would rate schools to see if they meet there own mission statement and produce a "quality product" which society wants to buy. If the school doesn't produce a good quality produce then sociey can buy from another school. This would force administrations of politicians or boards of business people to meet a their own criteria. Criteria that every parent can read! With this audits would become commonplace and the great resource that teachers are, will have to be tapped.

Timothy Hughes
houston, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for what I found to be a balanced report of the Edison schools to date. What struck me was that Edison apparently believes in superimposing its education model on schools. We know from research that the best, most effective schools change from within, with all stake-holders (students, parents, teachers, administrators) working collaboratively for change. Maybe that's why some of the Edison schools, which began with so much promise, have now begun to have problems. Our schools reflect our society and ourselves - only we can change them from within.

wichita falls, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

My seven year old daughter has attended an Edison school for two years and it saddens me to think that the contract with Edison will probably not be renewed after this coming school year. I really like the program and all that it offers. I am often surprised by the things my daughter is learning. Not only is she learning Spanish and getting real art instruction, she is already learning advanced shapes in math and the properties of different materials in science. I don't remember learning these until much later. She loves reading and Edison requires that each parent sign a contract that they will make sure the child reads for at least 20 minutes every school night. I could go on, but suffice it to say that I love the Edison program. I understand that there are business issues involved also, but my main concern is my child's education and Edison has more to offer her than any other public school in this area. Let's face it, Mr. Whittle is in this to make money, but most teachers' opposition to Edison is also for selfish reasons, not the good of the students.

Melinda Febus
peoria, il


Dear FRONTLINE,

Edison Schools excites me. Before seeing this program, I had never heard of them. However, now that I know about them, I love their ideas. I do feel that teachers' unions have way too much power in the situations shown on the program. The unions seem to have no problem protecting teachers who fail to teach their students, as long as these people keep paying their dues and carrying their signs. As far as Edison being a for-profit company: I think it's great. Corporations hire people based on their ability to perform. If certain people fail to perform, they are let go. This seems to be a concept lost in public schools due to unions. The Edison 'way of business' obviously works, as long as their plan is followed.

lake dallas, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program on public education and the experiment with Edison served to highlight the bankrupt state of our public education.

The interviews of teachers from the Chester school system showed how underpaid public servants have no motivation to make the system better. Instead of embracing change that may have benefited the children, they chose to use subtle tactics to destroy what they perceived as intruders. I think this mind set is the result of the poor pay that teachers receive. High pay and high esteem would attract motivated individuals who may have embraced a new and a better way of doing things. But then if you had highly paid and highly motivated tachers, you wouldn't need a company like Edison at all.

Paul Kim
ogden, ut


Dear FRONTLINE,

This program was wonderfully done, and it showed the faults from both sides of the debate. You can't make a profit on public education; nothing that has altruism at its core can generate money. The voters and politicians must be willing to spend money (read: taxes) in order to have successful education, knowing fully that for the public good, it takes cash.

On the other hand, the reaction of teacher's unions in Chester and in Philadelphia show why many people, especially in my region of the country, do not hold much faith in unionized civil servants. Teaching is a selfless act of service; these people are merely afraid of losing control of their fiefdoms.

augusta, georgia


Dear FRONTLINE,

Success or failure of schools is measured by the impact they have had in the community (not by useless tests). The facts are that society is in crisis accross the board. The chances for a wholesome lifestyle are getting worse. Since the main steering tool that a society has to shape its future is schools, then I say, let's blame schools for the ills of society. Schools are quite blind to the facts of life and needs of society. Our bland, unresponsive and negligent society is no accident. It wasn't that way - we used to care. Schools have changed, but quite obviously not in the right direction. Lack of values; on denial all over; giving more heed to apearances than to reality; That's what, sadly, it seems to be what most schools are all about.

Whether Edison has - or not - the solution, remains to see. But the fact is, business as usual in public schools is what we have to avoid.

Yama Ploskonka
austin, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

My daughter attended an International Baccalaureate school for her primary grades. She unfortunately had to attend puclic school for 6th grade. She will be homeschooled for the next two years, or longer if she doesn't win the "lottery" to attend an IB high school.

Edison schools seem to have a curriculum very similar to the IB program. It's wonderful. It works. My daughter loved school, loved to learn.

After a year in a public school she despises "education".

It can be done, it is being done, but not for profit.

Leslie Darienzo
wellington, florida


Dear FRONTLINE,

As teacher of economics, I am a big supporter of the free market system. Yet the positive externalities of public education, on which no one has been able to figure out how to turn a profit, has never been a significant element of the public debate on privitization of our eductional system. On the scale of shame and short-sightedness, the recalitance of organized labor is only exceeded by the greed of corporations trying to cash in on the problems of educating all Americans (mostly the ones who can't pay for the priviledge). All the Edison investors have lost is money they didn't have a better use for, the real losers continue to be... well you know.

Michael Lamb
warm springs, ga


Dear FRONTLINE,

The special on Edison schools was interesting. I believe those supporting Edison schools truely feel passionate about helping the children and turning school systems into higher ranking schools. The main problem I have though is that the entire discussion about schooling problems (both public and private) treated these school problems as if it's only a matter within the school itself. A new school comes into a city/town and teachers will likely be replaced (I'm sure the poor ones will get cut, but I'm also sure some quality good teachers will be cut, that's a serious change in one's life), some new principals will be instilled, and new ways to address kids (with smiles, etc.) are proposed, but there is no consideration that these kids each come from a seperate place where they spend much of their overall time. This place can be anywhere outside of school, e.g. work, home, with friends, etc. There is no mention of how these kids are each bringing a different story with them to school, a different history in which they have grown to understand different parts of the world (i.e. suspiciously, unimportant, secondary to more important things, etc.). Such a phenomena has a huge impact on how one will do in school, or in many other situations. If we are to even get close to properly addressing such a complex issue, as education, then factors external to where the phenomena are occuring need to be addressed. Actions don't necessarily happen immediatly after an emotion. Sometimes emotions need to grow.

Stephen Ostertag
storrs, ct


Dear FRONTLINE,

I would just like to say that I strongly support Edison Schools. They have made a great difference in the community. I teach at Montebello Elementary and I truly believe in Chris Whittle and the Edison Project. When recruited to the company 3 years ago, I was entralled at the possiblity of having new supplies and curriculum. My dreams had come true. I was now able to successfully teach my students. The Edison New York staff were extremely open and helpful. We made student achievement our number one goal and we succeeded!!

baltimore, maryland


Dear FRONTLINE,

I think it is sad that teacher's unions are driving Edison away from school districts that need serious and immediate help. Teachers should be more concerned about the students they teach, rather than their own hides. Teaching is a selfless career...they knew that when they entered the field.

How awful for those children in Philadelphia who will now lose out on an opportunity for a good education because of these few adults who are afraid of change. Who are afraid they may lose their jobs because of their own under-performance. I sure would love a job where I can't be fired once I hit tenure. But that isn't the real world.

Teacher's unions and the politics of school boards have ruined the American school system. And that is sad.

Kristin gillenwater
baltimore, md


Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched with interest your program on Edison. I feel that many of your programs on education scapegoat teacher unions as a culprit. Chris Whittle is an arrogant man who sees schools as a place to make money. I would like to see him teach a class for a year, rather than sit in his office with his research. Maybe it's too much to hope for, but I would have like to have seen more balance in your program.

hull, ma

 

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published july 3, 2003

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