- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Test scores declined this year at three Baltimore elementary schools taken over by the state six years ago, leading some critics to suggest that the city could do a better job running the schools than the for-profit company charged with turning them around.

Edison Schools Inc., a company that manages elementary and secondary public schools under contracts with school districts and charter school boards, was picked in 2000 by State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick and the state school board to run three schools: Furman L. Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello elementary schools. The schools were considered at the time to be among the worst in the city.

After some intermittent gains, scores at Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor dropped at least 10 percentage points in most grades this year, and scores for fifth- and six-graders at Montebello Elementary also declined sharply.

State and company officials say that student performance has improved overall since Edison began running the schools and that the culture of the schools has improved.

“School improvement is a long process,” said John Chubb, chief education officer for Edison. “We started working in the schools six years ago when there were no worse schools in Baltimore. We have improved the schools.”

Mr. Chubb said Edison will analyze test results to understand better what has happened and make adjustments as needed.

The company might need to improve teacher training or replace teachers, he said.

State administrators will be meeting with Edison officials to get their analysis of what happened in the past year, said James Foran, a state education official who manages the contract with Edison.

“Certainly the results are not anything we are happy about,” Mr. Foran said.

On the Maryland School Assessment given in March, Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor fell below the citywide averages in nearly all grades in both math and reading. The two schools also ranked in the bottom 25 of the city’s 114 elementary schools, according to an analysis by the Baltimore Sun.

The scores at Gilmor are poor enough that it might not meet federal standards and will continue to be classified as a school that needs improvement, state officials said.

While scores at Montebello were higher and the school is not in danger of being labeled as needing improvement, less than half the fifth-graders passed their math test, down from 71 percent last year.

Beyond the implications for students, this year’s scores could make it harder for Edison to negotiate another contract with the state before the current one expires next June.

Mr. Foran said several options would be considered if the state decides not to renew a contract with Edison.

The schools could become charter schools, be given back to the city or transferred to another entity to operate.

Brian Morris, chairman of the city school board, said the city would “absolutely” be interested in getting the schools back and pointed out that elementary schools in the city have improved in the past five years.

“I think we have a good model for elementary education,” Mr. Morris said.

Since Edison began running the three schools in 2000, several other schools that had been on the state’s list of failing schools have, under the city’s control, improved as much as or more than the Edison schools. The city closed several others.

Maryland Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Baltimore Democrat who pushed for legislation that put a one-year moratorium on a proposed state takeover of 11 middle and high schools this spring, said he was motivated in part by comparing Edison’s performance with other city schools.

Mr. McFadden said he thinks that with the amount of money Edison gets from the city school budget, the city school system could do a better job with the three schools.

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