The streets of San Francisco will swell with protesters next Tuesday. Parents, teachers and children will march on the School Board to stop it from revoking the Edison Academy’s charter. America soon will learn whether the government school establishment would rather plunge 515 low-income, minority students into ignorance than let them shine in private hands.
Edison Elementary once was among San Francisco’s worst schools. “Violence was so commonplace,” former principal Ken Romines observed, “students expected to get hurt or hurt others.”
In the fall of 1998, the coincidentally named Edison Schools, Inc., began managing the K-5 campus as a for-profit charter school. It focused on discipline, high standards, and hard work. School days grew 90 minutes longer while the academic year expanded by two weeks.
Every third- through fifth-grader also takes home a free I-Mac computer. “To prepare students for this new century,” principal Vince Matthews tells me, Edison provides “the tools they will need to be successful.” It also teaches art and music, both virtually absent from local government schools.
The Pacific Research Institute’s Diallo Dphrepaulezz outlines Edison’s stunning results. Between its 1998-1999 launch and 2000-2001, Edison’s students advanced 15.6 percentile points, on average, on the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT 9). California students averaged an 8-point gain while San Francisco’s government school pupils progressed just 3 percentile points.
In the spring of 1998, 70 percent of Edison’s students read in the SAT 9′s bottom quartile while 55 percent were mired there in math. By spring 2000, Edison Charter Academy had lowered those numbers to 42 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
Among San Francisco’s 22 substantially black elementary schools, Edison shot from 19th to 7th on California’s Academic Performance Index between 1999 and 2000 while black students’ API scores rose 25 percent. Edison’s Hispanic students enjoyed a 15 percent API boost and moved from 16th to 7th among the city’s 28 significantly Hispanic primary schools.
This good news enraged the reactionary, left-wing School Board. Edison Schools, Inc. was outflanking its collapsing, government-operated campuses. “I am philosophically against a corporation running a school,” Board member Mark Sanchez snapped.
School Board president Jill Wynns seems to believe that until every student attends a world-class school, none should escape. “Any parent is going to say, I want more for my kid,” she said. “But at the expense of everyone else? No.”
The School Board accuses Edison of reducing its number of blacks, low-income students, and special-education pupils, perhaps to make Edison whiter, richer, and smarter. (Call it Exeter envy.) This paranoid charge implodes on scrutiny.
Edison’s black scholars have fallen from 39 percent of students in 1998 to 34 percent today. But the school district’s black population also has diminished. Edison’s data show that 78 percent of youngsters are eligible for free or subsidized school lunches, about 1998′s total. As for special-education students, their number fluctuates with enrollment.
Since Edison Academy opened, the specially educated have fallen from 6.9 percent to 4.5 percent today, precisely the proportion in the last pre-charter school year when the educrats ruled.
Anyway, Edison only fills openings with students who apply through the district. If discrimination is afoot, blame school headquarters, not Edison.
Meanwhile, parents complain about disrespectful treatment when they have defended Edison before the School Board. At a May 24 meeting, one mother interrupted her remarks to ask Board president Wynns to stop reading a newspaper and listen.
The School Board’s distraction is no surprise. The FBI is probing the school district for possible fraud. In 1990 and 1997, San Franciscans approved $90 million in bonds for earthquake-related repairs, safety improvements, and school construction. But an Arthur Andersen audit revealed that $27 million of these funds improperly padded staff salaries, and more. The Associated Press reports that another $14.6 million in state construction and repair grants have vanished. No wonder the School Board considers for-profit management a risky scheme.
The Board plans a June 27 vote to yank Edison’s charter before it outclasses the Empire again. Until then, the school’s moms and dads are using everything from media outreach to a website to mobilize support. On June 5, the Edison community will take to the streets out of sheer frustration.
“We have sent e-mails. We have written letters. We have met with the School Board president as a group of parents. And our voices are falling on deaf ears,” says Linda Gausman, mother of Monique, a promising third-grader. “That’s why we’re marching. We’re going to bat for our charter school, by any means necessary.”