Review of Two Reports about Privately Managed Schools in Philadelphia

In 2002, the city of Philadelphia began a policy of restructuring its lowest-achieving elementary and middle schools. 86 schools were included. Restructuring can take on a wide variety of forms, but in Philadelphia the most prominent approaches shifted school management to either the district or one of several private providers. In 2007, after four years of this policy, two research reports were issued, one by RAND in collaboration with Research For Action (RAND-RFA) and one by the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG). Both reports examined whether any positive effects on the math and reading achievement of students could be attributed to privately managed schools, district-managed schools, or neither. According to the RAND-RFA report, private management has had no cumulative effect on math or reading achievement, while district management has had a positive effect on math achievement but no effect on reading. According to the PEPG report, private management has had a positive effect on the percentage of students reaching "Basic" levels of performance in math and reading, while district management has generally had no effect. The different findings from the two reports can largely be explained by the fact that PEPG did not have the same access to data as did RAND-RFA. PEPG also analyzed data using a different methodological approach than did RAND-RFA, due in large part to the data limitations. This review identifies and describes methodological weaknesses in the report from RAND-RFA as well as in the PEPG report. Overall, while the RAND-RFA study appears to better capture the overall effects of Philadelphia's reform than does the PEPG study, it does not differentiate effects between the elementary and middle school grades. Further analysis and research is needed before drawing any definitive conclusions.

Suggested Citation:

Briggs, D. (2007). Review of Two Reports about Privately Managed Schools in Philadelphia. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved [date] from http://epicpolicy.org/thinktank/review-two-reports-about-privately-managed-schools-philadelphia

Documents Reviewed:

State Takeover, School Restructuring, Private Management, and Student Achievement in Philadelphia

Brian Gill, Ron Zimmer, Jolley Christman and Suzanne Blanc
RAND Corporation
Research For Action
Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance