Philadelphia private school managers a failure or success story?

The Fordham Institute blasts a Philadelphia Inquirer story calling the Philadelphia public school’s removal of six private managers a “blow to the experiment”:

Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer begins her reportage about the city’s experiences with private operators of public schools with this sentence: “In a blow to the Philadelphia School District’s historic privatization experiment, the School Reform Commission voted yesterday to seize six schools from outside managers and warned them that they are in danger of losing 20 others if progress is not made.”

A blow to the experiment? Nay, Ms. Graham–the revocation of several management contracts is an indication that the experiment is in fact working as intended. Thirty-eight Philly schools are currently run by private companies, and under the current initiative 16 percent of these, those that have been chronically failing, will return to district control. Thirty-two percent had their contracts extended (boffo for them) and the remainder were told that they have another year to demonstrate significant performance gains or face possible loss of contract.

Such a policy “puts providers on notice that we consider they have made just limited progress for children, and that’s not good enough,” the district’s new chief executive, Arlene Ackerman, said. Doesn’t sound to us like a blow to the experiment. Though it would be better if she were also adding some low-performing district schools to the “outsourcing” list.

Indeed, the private operators are much like charter schools, in that they can be penalized, or shut down, for failure to perform (though unlike charters, they are dependent on parents choosing them).

Unfortunately, as Fordham touches on, traditional public schools rarely face this same kind of accountability measure, but rather get rewarded for failure (with more money) and continue to get students assigned there, based on zip code, with few opportunities to find a better school.