(p. A23) When for-profit management of public schools was first proposed in Philadelphia six years ago, many in that city were extremely skeptical, if not aggressively hostile. So the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the entity responsible for the innovation, gave only the 30 lowest performing schools to for-profit companies, while another 16 were given to nonprofit organizations, including two of the city’s major universities (Temple and the University of Pennsylvania). Others were reorganized by the school district itself.
In effect, a competition was run among the three types of management — for-profit, nonprofit, and government-run. Four years into the race, here are the results: Students at schools managed by for-profit firms were roughly six months ahead in math than would be expected had the schools remained in the hands of the school district. In reading, students in schools managed by for-profit firms were two months further along than they would have been if the schools had been under district control, though that difference was not large enough to give us statistical certainty. Meanwhile the nonprofits — and the school district’s own reorganized schools — did no better than expected.
. . .
Though we believe our methodology to be state of the art, our findings will nonetheless be controversial, because they contradict a prior study by the RAND Corp. in February, which found no impact of private management on student performance. The RAND study, however, failed to separate out the schools managed by the for-profit firms from those managed by the nonprofit organizations. In our study, too, management effects are nil when the two are mixed together, as the positive impacts of for-profit firms are canceled out by the negative impacts of nonprofit organizations.
For the full commentary, see:
Paul E. Peterson and Matthew M. Chingos. “Educational Rewards.” Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 7, 2007): A23.
(Note: ellipsis added.)