Stories + Views
Edison Learning has been steeped in allegations of corruption, malpractice and failure. Why is its influence in Britain’s state schools increasing?
Edison Learning, a major American-owned for-profit education business, has been given approved status by the Department for Education. In the US, Edison Learning has been in the business of managing schools in the state system, independent charter schools and online “virtual” charter schools.
Here in Britain, its UK arm has been active since 2007, as highlighted here by Janet Downs.
Tim Nash, director of Edison Learning, said the company already had partnerships with more than 80 schools in the UK – and that it sold support services in the same way that publishers provided text books or technology firms provided computers. He added that if the “opportunity arose” the firm might want to manage schools – but that the boundaries around running state schools for profit had been made clear. In the time, the barrier could be circumnavigated to some extent – according to this BBC report, Nash has said that the firm was interested in setting up its own charitable body.
His comments that the “challenge was about raising achievement and supporting schools, regardless of their status” and “How do we help state education to be as good as it can possibly get? It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a local authority school, academy or free school” mimics the rhetoric coming from Gove and the rest of the government and is calculated to strike a chord with those who uncritically subscribe to the “broken schools” party line.
For those who follow the antics of the “school reform movement” in the United States, there is a website dedicated to allegations of Edison Learning scandals
Here is a short selection of some of these allegations:-
• The company has been accused of historically slanted and selected data it publicly released to make its failing schools appear to be wonderful, innovative learning environments. New York Times
• Edison’s questionable ties to politicians. In 2003, thanks to Jeb Bush, Edison was bailed out when the then-Florida governor bought out its failing stock with teachers’ pension funds, which has apparently left state pensioners to this day with a $182 million investment in a company many believe to be out to destroy public education and unions.
• Edison’s then-president Chris Cerf was named as one of the beneficiaries in the buy out. He now is the chief commissioner of education for New Jersey. New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie worked as lobbyist for a firm which represented Edison Schools in the state, when Cerf was Edison’s general counsel. Both are now implementing a slash-and-burn privatization plan for New Jersey schools, with hedge-fund managers hurrying to get a slice of the cake.
• As recently as 2007, Edison’s new E2 Design Sketch called for forcing child labour on students enrolled in its schools, since it would help the company’s bottom line. It is alleged that Edison proposed that support staff and lunch workers be fired and replaced with unpaid students. Chris Whittle, Edison’s founder, apparently even boasted to Colorado school principals that 600 unpaid students in a school could take the place of 75 salaried workers. It is unclear what became of this plan, but parents groups across the country were rightfully more than outraged.
• Despite protests in 2001 directed at Edison by the Philadelphia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), parents, and educators, Governor Mark Schweiker awarded Edison twenty schools to run, even though test scores did not come close to living up to what Edison had promised.
• In 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) cited Edison for faulty accounting techniques, and school districts across the U.S. quickly severed their ties to the company. Philadelphia had to wait until 2008 to set in place a plan to rid itself of Edison Learning.
• 19 Students were hospitalized in St. Louis after Edison’s security force randomly pepper-sprayed a crowd of students witnessing a fight. Edison has lost contracts for its lack of doing sufficient background checks on employees.
• Complaints were filed against Edison Learning in Missouri with the state board of education last year, when two SEN children were repeatedly suspended from school.
• Edison has left too many schools with enormous deficits, as it did with the Linear Leadership Academy in Louisiana, which was in the red over $300,000 until the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association broke its contract with Edison.
What began in the 1980s as an enterprise to transform public schools quickly became a troubled business battling falling test scores and dismal stock prices. How did the most ambitious for-profit education company in American history lose respect, money and credibility in such a short time?
And why has Michael Gove given it approved status in Britain?