Edison may yet be a dim bulb

27th March 1998 at 00:00
The jury is still out in the United States on the Edison Project, a company whose investors have gambled more than 100 million dollars (pound;62m) in the belief that there is a profit to be made in the private running of public (state) schools.

In 1995, the Edison Project took over the first of some 25 schools, from Kansas to California, with the promise it could deliver better and cheaper education than local districts running schools in the conventional way.

Late last year, in a confidential report, it cited higher scores on reading and maths tests as evidence that the schools were improving. Students at its Dodge-Edison elementary school in Wichita, Kansas, for example, were said to have boosted their scores by nearly 25 per cent, in what the company called "extraordinary progress".

But it has still to show that these results are permanent - or that they can realistically be achieved at the same time as cutting costs. Investing one or two million dollars in each new school, the company is reported to be years away from making a profit.

The Edison Project was launched six years ago in the US, though it has only been operating schools for three. It has stressed investing in research and development to produce innovative and "comprehensive restructuring" of schools, ranging from lengthening school hours and terms to energising parental involvement, and incentive bonuses for teachers whose pupils do well.

* According to information collected by the National Union of Teachers, another of the education action zone bids is connected to an American firm. The bid centred on the Newlands area of Bradford, which has links with the town's health authority. It also has an input from the Toledo Private Industry Consortium. The Ohio-based company, which works in schools and colleges in the United States, will be providing an American consultant.

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