My semester as a teacher’s aide…

On Fridays here at Daily Dawg HQ I’ve been recounting my adventures as a volunteer teacher’s aide in 1997—25 years ago.  The last major stop was at Elm Creek Elementary in Southwest ISD.  SWISD had turned this campus over to The Edison Project. 

Do you remember the Edison Project? It was the brainchild of Chris Whittle, an entrepreneur who hoped to revolutionize public education by turning it over to for-profit management companies.  The idea was that the smart people who make lots of money in private business would know how to run a school better than the professional educators. Schools would be efficient and effective. Kids would learn. Test scores would skyrocket.  Investors would profit. 

The idea generated much positive press and a lot of support among politicians who favored vouchers.  It didn’t work.  The Edison Project generated a profit for one quarter before its stock dropped from $40 to .14 and the company flamed out. Diane Ravitch wrote about this in her blog on January 18, 2020. She cites a book by Samuel Abrams, Education and the Commercial Mindset. 

According to that book, Whittle’s enterprise morphed from the Edison Project to Edison Schools, and now Edison Learning.  He reports that the company in 2003 managed 133 schools enrolling 80,000 students, but shrank to two credit recovery centers in Ohio and six alternative schools in Florida.  Ravitch and Abrams report that the Edison Project was built on the assumption that states would embrace vouchers allowing parents to use tax money in private schools. That movement did not sweep the country as the Edison Project investors had hoped, but as we know, the fight over vouchers continues.

When I visited the Edison Project school in SWISD I was impressed, mostly because this is where I witnessed the single most energetic and charismatic teacher I encountered in my semester as a teacher’s aide.  He was a young guy, teaching in a 4th grade classroom. He had the day plotted out in a way that was organized to the minute. The kids were engaged and I could see learning taking place.  His energy was off the charts and I wondered how he could keep this up for the longterm. When I talked to him he told me that he loved teaching, but would not stay with it very long.  “You can’t make any money,” he noted. 

Do you see the irony?  Here was a school experimenting with a way of delivering public education in a way that would be profitable for investors, but at the classroom level it was the same old same old. Not enough money to retain talented and dedicated teachers like this guy.

I notice that Elm Creek Elementary is now recognized as a national Blue Ribbon School of  Excellence. And they achieved that with public funds and public servants. Imagine that.


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