Can a unique American strength, private-sector entrepreneurship, aid a troubled institution, the public schools? asks Steven F. Wilson, founder and former CEO of Advantage Schools and Senior Fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In Learning on the Job: When Business Takes on Public Schools, Wilson analyzes the first decade of leadership by for-profit education management companies (EMOs) that have taken over failing public schools.
Following a brief introduction to charter school legislation, which paved the way for privately managed schools, Wilson considers how the seven largest of these varied from traditional schools and each other in terms of implementing school design (e.g., class structure, use of time, and curriculum), finding great leadership and creating effective school cultures. He finds strengths in each EMO, such as strong foundation skills in primary grades and an emphasis on professional development.
In this balanced look at what Wilson calls a controversial experiment in American education, the author also recognizes the myriad problems, many unforeseen, which have plagued EMOs. Political opposition from teachers unions and school boards, resistance to change and securing school space continue to rank at the top. The two biggest challenges to EMOs, however, are improving academic performance and turning a profit (remember, they are businesses). While the author believes that the first wave of education management companies has been a hard, unpredictable ride, the next wave can learn from these experiences and be successful to both its shareholders and the communities they serve. Readers who share Wilson's desire for public school reform will come away with a wealth of knowledge on this possible solution to saving our schools.