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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?

Whittle and Edison represent the future in education. Both combine the thinking of Ayn Rand's philosophy with an opportunity for unshackled classroom teachers to "make a difference". Regardless of protests to the contrary, the public school system has long missed its mission of focusing on teaching skills, while helping parents to establish values at home. Edison's focus on reading skills being addressed by every classroom teacher is being applied in New Orleans public schools this coming school year. It will be interesting to note how many current teachers accept this responsibility, because therein lies the key to success.

As a reading specialist I founded a successful school for underachieving students in the private sector and closed after a decade of curriculum based on applied research and business techniques, only because of the local school system's opposition. That was twenty years ago. Today, Louisiana would support my efforts with guaranteed funding to provide needed choice for parents. Hang in there, Whittle, you're setting a benchmark for the future of public education in America!

elizabeth clemens
new orleans, louisiana


I was very pleased to see a program discussing the privatization debate in the public school system. However, I feel the movement against privatization was rather neglected in your analysis. There was very little consideration, for example, of how a privatized curriculum affects students across the country, how the length of the school day impacts teachers as well as their students, and what the negative consequences are when a union is removed from a school system.

Frontline also neglected to add that children become a captive audience to Channel One. In addition to the news reporting, there are commercials for fast food and athletic wear which, by contract, the children are required to watch.. As a public school teacher I was also disappointed to see the unions receiving heavy blame. There were only two teacher's opinions presented on the matter regarding the union's fight to remove Edison from the Wichita School District. I have had the opportunity to work in positions with and without a union protecting its workers. I would rather have a union behind me every step of the way.

My personal experience has left me with the philosophy that every child deserves an excellent education. Each student that has entered my classroom has individual needs, backgrounds, and family. It is impossible to teach every student, or class, the same material and at the same pace year after year. We cannot assume that one company with its single curriculum can educate our children across the country, serve to their every need, and improve their test scores.

chicago, il


I am a very vocally supportive Edison parent. I am thrilled that my husband and I have the opportunity to choose Edison's wonderfully innovative curriculum and design over the other public school option we have in our community.

I think the overall message about Edison is that parents should have choices and be able to make decisions regarding their childrens' education. Many communities cannot offer the curriculum Edison can nor can they support teachers with the continuous training and technology that Edison can. If districts think they can model what Edison does and do it just as well, I say good luck!

Carrie Wahlfeld
peoria, illinois


I watched your excellent documentary with great interest. If it wasn't obvious beforehand, it should be clear now that Public Education is a profoundly politically charged enterprise, with all manner of competing stakeholders. Sometimes the tensions between the groups are useful, and other times they are simply destructive.

On the one hand I admire Mr. Whittle's grand vision, but at the same time I do not see the need for a for-profit organization working inside the Public Education system -- if competition is the goal, shouldn't private schools, vouchers, and charter schools suffice without actually turning public institutions over to the private sector?

I also hope that all the passionate energy that went into fighting Edison can be transferred into making the Philadelphia school system better than it was before. The state of some of those schools was clearly abysmal -- hardly fitting for citizens of the world's leading free nation.

Colin McGillicuddy
burlington, ontario


Bravo to John Merrow for another insightful documentary on education.

J.P. Goldman
silver spring, md.


Thank you for an excellent report! This was FRONTLINE at its best. Reports like this make me really angry.

I'm a parent of a four-year-old who feels that there should be more Chris Whittles in this world both in the private sector AND in the public sector. If public school educators want to throw stones at this man, they should first look at what they have done to improve education. Fixing a single school is an incredibly difficult project, fixing over a 100 is almost a miracle. Edison should be a standard that public schools take as a challenge. Why cant we use some good old fashioned American competitive spirit to fix the schools? The battle cry for the public schools should be we can do better than Edison, and we will. The ultimate winners of this competition will be our children.

Paul Mow
honolulu, hawaii


Compelling in last nights show on Edison was that Edison failed because it was unable to please Wall Street. Aren't schools supposed to serve children and their families?

Your show also pointed out that when Edison came into Wichita and spent a ton of cash it was successful. As it was not profitable, Edison could not afford the cash outlay. As cash decreased, Edison's results declined in Wichita and elsewhere. This is exactly what happened to public education in the first place. What was the state of pennsylvania expecting when they cut spending on public school education by 25%? I thought your show was biased in one regard. It made the teachers union look bad. What happened in Miami where the teachers union invited Edison in? What happened in Georgia where there was no teachers union at all? To be fair, these results should have been reported.

Keith Newman
philadelphia , pa


Thankyou for the documentary on Edison Schools. It was indeed balanced: between triumph and tragedy. The triumph of The Edison Project and the tragedy of the school districts of Chester, PA and especially the public employees of the Pennsylvania School System. Those people allowed their schools to fall into disrepair and should be ashamed of themselves.

I hope that the Edison Project is successful and would like to see a one, five, and ten year follow up on how well the Edison-run schools are doing versus the public schools that have rejected or tried to copy their model. Of course, I would no such follow up would be complete without that of the 25 schools that Edsion did not get and the 20 schools that it did.

I'd bet good money on Edison. The teacher's union in PA don't care if the public schools get better or worse. They'll still get paid and they won't get fired. And that is a form of greed more devestating and tragic than anything manufactured by Wall Street.

Roosevelt Freeman
honolulu, hawaii


Public school is failing my child. As a parent of a special-needs child, I am disgusted at the shortfalls in educational opportunity for my child. Federal Law says one thing, for instance, but for lack of funding I am helpless to uphold it.

On the other hand, my family is very fortunate to have a very good set of teachers - who are truly giving of themselves for the benefit of the children - but they cannot do it alone forever. I believe in many of the ideals of the Edison Schools, such as longer school days and longer years, but foremost I believe that as a society we must take better care of our teachers - happy, enthusiastic teachers lead to happy, enthusiastic learners. And if it means that our educational system is governed by the private sector, then so be it. I, for one, would choose a better education for my children now so that when it is their turn, they'll have the tools they need to make society a better place, just as Chris Whittle is attempting now.

reno, nv


It's plain to me what the problem is here: Teacher Unions. In Baltimore where Edison has control over personel and no union it is a success. In the other districts where the teacher union was involved they had the teachers and the union conspiring together against the program. They wanted it to fail because Edison is a threat to the Teacher union monopoly and the union executives' six-figure salaries. If Edison is allowed to succeed other districts might follow and Teacher unionization would fall. This is what the unions are really afriad of.

Don't be distracted with their hysterical attacks on education for profit. They have no problem with education for profit as long as it's theirs and not the publics'.

It is impossible to improve education in disaster area school districts with the union hell bent against anything that would actually do any good. This is documented nicely in Peter Brimelow's new book, Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions are Destroying American Education

Ryan Kennedy
anchorage, alaska


After having spent thirty years in the secondary classroom, I discovered that the primary driving force behind K-12 public education is social. All the major educational stakeholders must have a feeling of ownership in a school and desire to work with each other in order for an optimum learning environment to exist.

I did not witness that sense of community in the Frontline piece this evening on Chris Whittle and his Edison School Project. Perhaps, Mr. Whittle would be better served by discovering and then incorporating into his privatization paradigm how students, parents, classroom educators and administrators in successful public schools actually function collectively. Wow, just think of the possibility: business, the benevolent stakeholder with a face, joining the others for better public schools. Don't hold your breath.

Terry Rainey
jacksonville, il


I recently read the books: "The Worm in the Apple" (How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education) by Peter Brimelow and "Dumbing Down Our Kids" (Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add) by Charles J. Sykes.

Both books fully illustrate why I hope Edison Schools succeed. Edison's primary objectives are to teach children to read, write, calculate math, be moral responsible citizens and to think logically. And they insist on parental involvement. All this without regard to race or ethnic background.

I had the opportunity to visit several Edison schools in 1997. In each school I found respectful children, enthuastic teachers and well equiped/supplied classrooms.

One janitor was excited because he found he could get his mops/cleaning supplies cheaper from Sam's Club than from the local school district and that would "save on his budget". To me, that is 'ownership of responsibility' for that janitor. Also, four teachers car pooled to Office Depot 50 miles away once a month to buy supplies for themselves & other teachers because they could get more/better supplies for their allowed budgeted dollars than from the school district central purchasing office.

Teacher's unions have been Edison's number one enemy from Edison's onset. Can anyone provide an valid student-based explanation as to why the teacher's unions are so violently opposed to Edison?

If Edison doesn't cost the taxpayer more money, while producing better test scores (aka, better performing students), what reasonable organization/school board should not hire them?

Judith Leonard
springfield, mo


We as members of our communities are responsible for the strength of our schools. Schools that are failing reflect the efforts of all involved-- teachers, government/community, and most of all, parents.

We must do all that is possible to improve the quality of education for our children. If Edison can help bring resources to school districts with little support, that is a good thing for our schools. It's worth a try.

denver, co


My children attend an Edison school. I teach Educational Psychology and know that Edison's model takes into account all the latest in educational reform. That is important to me. I find Edison's teachers and staff to be warm and caring and the schools are friendly places to be. My gifted child has excelled in the Edison school. My other child does much better in an Edison school than in our former district school.

My children were sad on the last day of school -- they want to go to school all the time. What better vote of confidence can you give than that?! It is sad that people who don't really understand education or the true needs of children are trying to undermine Edison, especially in Chester and Philadelphia. It is even sadder that teachers are trying to stop Edison over issues of tenure and union benefits. I thought teachers are supposed to support what is best for the children, not what is best for the teachers.

collegeville, pa


I just finished watching your special on the Edison Company and Chris Wittle, its founder. I am a teacher of Health and Physical Education with the School District of Philadelphia. My school (K-8)is located in the inner city and is in one of the most dangerous drug neighborhoods. Last year my school was taken over by Edison. After 27 years in education, I must say that it was the worst of my teaching career. As a teacher of HPE, I was forced to teach developmental reading five days a week, 90 minutes each day,to 25 3rd and 4th graders, with no training and more importantly, no certification.(Let me add that Art Ed. and Music Ed. teachers were also teaching reading) I consistently e-mailed the CEO of the PSD, Paul Vallas and Edison, with no replies from either for an entire school year. I continued to teach the reading program for one reason and one reason only, the love of my students. I don't disagree that reading is essential to growing and learning, but where else could I teach reading without a reading certification? Even the PA State Certification Office said that it would be "highly inappropriate" for a HPE teacher to be teaching developmental reading. When asked if I could refuse to teach it, I was told that if I did it would be considered "insubordination." This is just one issue of many I have with Edison.

Another is, as a teacher of HPE, with a M.Ed. in Kinesiology from Temple University, I literally taught nothing last year in the area of physical education. Why? Because the Edison schedule called for 2 classes (60 students) to be run consecutively in a gymnasium made for 30. Not only was it crowded and unsafe, the age of the groups often did not even come close and again more importantly, the children lost out.

Lastly, I would like to speak about the increase in discipline problems that took place this year. When Edison took over, they eliminated our three grade coordinators, who in years past, were the staff who handled the core of the discipline problems. Without them, all behavior problems (and there were many from age 5-15) were placed in the hands of the Academy Director (Assistant Principal). Edison's solution was to "swap" any problems with another teacher. Yea, that was a good idea (not)!!

I could continue, but it seems to be futile. Edison will be in Philadelphia as I understand it for at least one more year. let's hope it's the last.

Joanne Kelly
hatboro, pa


While watching the PBS program on Edison Schools, I was struck by several things:

-If the Baltimore public schools needed new books and supplies, isn't it a shame a private company had to provide those resources because of inadequate funding at the federal, state, and local level for quality public education for the children of Baltimore; - The physical conditions of the buildings in Philadelphia were akin to something seen on the evening news in a third world country. How many people could learn or work in those conditions? -Public education is done on the cheap, so how does anyone think they are going to provide the needed resources and "turn a profit?"

hampton roads, virginia



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published july 3, 2003

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