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A Global Left
An interview with Hanan Ashrawi
Eleanor J. Bader
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Edison Schools Going Under?
I n February 2000, Samuel A. Walker, a communications specialist for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative Michigan-based policy institute, touted Edison Schools as the wave of the future. In a “Free Market Moment,” Walker, using the techniques he honed as director of editorial services in the Heritage Foundation’s public relations department, wrote: “Several years ago…[we] put forward an idea that struck many as far-fetched: privatize school districts.
“That’s right there are private companies that will come into a failing school district, take the money the state is providing through taxes, and do a better job of educating our children. One of those companies—the New York- based Edison Schools—already runs twenty-two schools in Michigan.” Walker closed by pointing out, “As Edison schools prosper, parents are starting to believe in real education reform.”
Now, more than two and a half years later, Edison Schools Inc., the conservative poster child for the privatization of public schools, is barely keeping its head above water. The much ballyhooed for-profit public and charter school management company is facing a double whammy: a financial crisis that could result in its removal from the NASDAQ Stock Exchange and the loss of contracts in a number of cities in the U.S.
As we have seen over the past several months, one of the surefire indicators that a company is under-the-gun is when it goes out and hires a hotshot PR firm to tell its story. As the share price of Edison plummeted—going from a high of $38 in 2001 to barely over $1 in mid-November—the company, formerly called The Edison Project, has hired The Nieman Group, based in Harrisburg, PA, to handle its advertising and public relations. Edison Schools Inc. is the brainchild of entrepreneur Christopher Whittle who also founded the controversial company Channel One, a classroom television news program complete with commercials geared toward kids (Channel One is currently owned by K-III Communications, Inc., a property of Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts).
The Nieman Group’s first salvo came in the form of a full-page advertisement in the Monday, October 28 edition of the New York Times . The ad, according to O’Dwyer’s PR Daily , “addresses four main points critics are raising about the ten-year old company—test score improvement, acceptance of the Edison program, financials, and the flurry of press coverage about the company.”
The ad pointed out that Edison is “the most scrutinized school system in America, bar none” and declared “that its operating position is strong despite the ‘ups and downs’ of its share price.” The ad also claimed that “test scores at Edison schools are rising on average and that the company now educates 80,000 students in 150 schools.” Although it has dramatically increased the number of schools and students it has under contract, last year contract disputes caused it to close 20 schools with 7,400 students, reports Business Week .
The test scores claim doesn’t square with a late August report in the Philadelphia Inquirer that found that almost all the Edison-managed schools in the Chester Upland district in Pennsylvania— historically one of the state’s lowest-performing districts—“ranked well-below average or below average, compared with test takers around the country.” The Inquirer goes on to say: “In none of the district’s Edison-run schools did all of the grades advance at least one grade level.”
Business Week reported in its November 4 edition, “Edison’s precarious financial position is forcing it to borrow funds at exorbitant rates of 12 percent and higher. The Wall Street Journal’s “Marketplace” section on October 22 pointed out that the company had never turned a profit—losing as much as $86 million last year—despite the frequent optimistic predictions by Whittle to the contrary. In June 2002, reporter Tali Woodward said that the company had “racked up $250 million in losses” since its founding in 1992.
In a report for Corp Watch , Woodward wrote, “Edison is still reeling from a three-month inquiry into the company’s finances by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Investigators determined that the company consistently misreported revenues, providing an unduly rosy picture to investors. For example, Edison reported $375.8 million in revenue in fiscal 2001. According to the SEC’s May 14 order, $154 million of that never passed through the company: it was spent by school districts on salaries for teachers and other staff at schools run by Edison. The SEC also found that Edison does not have an adequate system of internal accounting controls in place.”
Despite the SEC findings, only minor sanctions were imposed. Overall, things looked relatively promising as Edison prepared to enter the new school year with its heftiest contract—managing 20 “low-performing” schools in Philadelphia—under its belt.
The genesis of the Philadelphia contract is worthy of note. Woodward reports that in 2001, Edison was paid $2.7 million by then governor Tom Ridge to perform an assessment of the Philadelphia schools and “come up with a reform plan.” Edison recommended that the state place 45 of the district’s “lowest-performing schools” as well as the district offices in the hands of a private company. According to Woodward, “the company also targeted thousands of support jobs, including janitorial services, for budget cuts.” In December 2001, the mayor of Philadelphia and the governor placed the school district in the hands of a five-member reform commission. In April 2002, “the commission announced…that 42 schools would be handed over to private managers—20 of them to Edison.” A major battle ensued, involving thousands of teachers, parents, and students vehemently protesting the Edison contract.
At its website, Edison claims to have “implemented its school design in 150 public schools, including many charter schools,” across the country. Its “school design” included a prepackaged standardized curriculum, a longer school day, reducing administrative costs by slashing the educational beauro- cracy, and taking advantage of economies of scale. Edison’s plan translated into the hiring of inexperienced and lower paid teachers, initiation of a cookie cutter curriculum, the removal of special needs students, and an overemphasis on teaching testing.
In late October, despite talk of a possible Edison bankruptcy, the Philadelphia school system sent the company a check for $5 million “after signing a deal guaranteeing that the district wouldn’t be left without school equipment and supplies if the company failed,” the British newspaper, the Guardian , reported.
The threat of bankruptcy has been a concern of other school districts with Edison contracts. In June 2002, the Michigan Department of Education warned its schools that it should have contingency plans in place should Edison go out of business. As the Mt. Clemens school board was negotiating an end to its seven-year contract with Edison, Watkins told local school boards or colleges that they may have to consider dissolving their Edison-run schools. The Detroit News reported that state Schools Superintendent Tom Watkins told charter school sponsors that these plans “may be as simple as hiring another educational service provider to immediately take over Edison’s responsibilities.”
According to a late-August editorial in the Boston Globe , earlier in the month the school superintendent in Dallas “informed Edison that the city intends to cancel multi-year contracts at seven Edison-run elementary schools.” Last May, the Globe pointed out, “the Boston Renaissance Charter School also severed its relationship with Edison, citing the need, and ability, of local Renaissance staffers to manage curriculum issues, standardized testing, and personnel administration without Edison’s help.”
Privatization’s Failing Grade
M any public school advocates and opponents of privatization have watched Edison closely and conclude that the company relentlessly toots its own horn, but rarely meets the claims it trumpets. While some schools run by Edison have shown some improvement in test scores, the American Federation of Teachers says that, like the company’s financials, these numbers are often illusory. (For an AFT report on Edison titled “Student Achievement in Edison Schools: Mixed Results in an Ongoing Experiment,” see www.aft.org/research/edison-project/summary).
In the midst of this current crisis, the October 22, 2002, edition of the National Center for Policy Analysis’s Daily Policy Digest reported that Edison says it will tighten its belt, cut unprofitable contracts, and overhaul its strategy by cutting back on expansion plans. The NCPA, a conservative policy institute, claims that “The future of public education in the United States, and efforts to reform it, are closely tied to the prospects” of Edison.
In early October, perhaps out of desperation or frustration, Edison’s founder Christopher Whittle came up with a strange scheme to reduce the company’s labor costs. Whittle proposed that public school students take on some of the company’s administrative work. According to a press release issued by Philadelphians United to Support Public Schools, Whittle pointed out that the company’s bottom line could be enhanced because “600 pupils working one hour a day was the equivalent of 75 full-time adult staff.”
Given its lack of profitability, falling stock price, less than august educational track record, and ludicrous comments by Whittle, it is going to take a heck of a PR effort by The Nieman Group to handle Edison’s growing problems. Business Week gives the company until next June to prove “it can make money while effectively running schools in such tough places as Philadelphia. If it fails,” Business Week says, “Edison will likely either become a private company or face bankruptcy.”
If the company files for bankruptcy as the Tesseract Group (formerly Education Alternatives Inc.)—another for-profit company that managed public schools—did in 2001, school districts with Edison contracts will be left in the lurch. Privatization? In the short run it may slow it down, but it certainly will not end these efforts; America’s public schools represent a multibillion dollar industry and the privateers desperately want their share.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.