Statement on EMOs


June 19, 2008

Statement on the June 18 EMO decision

Parents United for Public Education supports the School Reform Commission's decision yesterday to take the first steps to establish accountability for Education Management Organization (EMOs). Although we had hoped that more schools would be returned to District control, we believe the SRC's decision sends an important message that private contracts will be held to a minimum standard of achievement.

We especially praise the District for defining what additional
resources returning schools will have under District management. This
is an important opportunity to re-establish the expertise and vision
of public education. We believe that public schools work when the
appropriate will, resources and effort are put to the task. We expect
that as more schools return to District management, the District will
be ready to accept them with the best that our public system has to

Six years ago a promise was made to the people of Philadelphia that
the state would do right by our children. Since then, half a generation of children has gone through our schools and we have spent almost $120 million on the EMO model, whose well-documented results have shown that this experiment needs to end.

Throughout much of our testimony over the past several years, we have
made clear that our concerns about EMOs have always had less to do
with the individual companies than with the fundamental underpinnings
of our belief in public education – whether the District will promote
academic achievement and student success, enforce accountability and
transparency, respect students' special needs, and engage parents and
the broader public in an effort to build the kind of schools our children deserve.

Now is the time for the District and SRC to leave behind the politicized vestiges of the state takeover and chart a course which emphasizes a quality choice system, not a multiple choice system. As we move forward, we ask that the District continues to refine, expand and invest in strategies that make schools work rather than adhere to any particular management model or company.

Together, we can reclaim that promise made years ago. We look forward to partnering with the District on this effort.

July 24, 2007 

Why we care about EMOs

For the past five years, Education Management Organizations (EMOs) have symbolized what “reform” means in Philadelphia. EMOs arrived via a hostile state takeover and promised to be a remedy for failing schools and a bankrupt district. Today, our schools face a massive deficit, as much as a billion dollars over the next five years; declining graduation rates; increased class sizes; and an unprecedented rise of violence in our schools and communities. Meanwhile, EMOs have flourished financially, earning $107 million in management fees over the past five years, yet still failing to significantly turn around schools.


In 2001, Governor Tom Ridge orchestrated a state takeover of the Philadelphia public schools. At a cost of $2.1 million, Gov. Ridge first hired Edison Schools, Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit manager of public schools, to make recommendations on how to improve Philadelphia schools. Edison recommended that the entire Philadelphia school district be turned over to their company, a recommendation fully endorsed by Gov. Ridge  and the leadership of Harrisburg. For the next ten months, citizens, students, district employees and union members formed a powerful alliance and launched a citywide campaign against Edison Schools and the privatization of public education. In the end, the School Reform Commission compromised with a “diverse provider model,” a mix of managers that included for-profit, non-profit and university, as well as private management. 

What studies found

The SRC has been steadfast in its support of the “diverse provider model” even though four separate and independent studies have shown that EMOs do not substantively outperform district-managed schools. Only one study, which was partially paid for by Edison Schools, showed that EMOs had succeeded in outperforming district schools.

The District’s own internal study, published in April 2007 but which the SRC refused to make public for months, showed many problems with EMOs, including:

  • contracts which paid them for more students than they enrolled; and
  • lack of enforcement around quality services to bilingual students, English language learners, and special education students.

A study by RAND/RFA found that the most successful model of achievement were schools under management by the Office of Restructured Schools. This office invested district resources in a “test set” of struggling schools with similar demographics and achievement levels as EMO schools. Schools under the Office of Restructured Schools not only outperformed EMO schools, but also the average district- managed school. The SRC disbanded the Office of Restructured Schools in 2006. 

EMO contracts lasted five years. This spring, a number of Harrisburg legislators launched a campaign to ensure the full renewal of the EMOs, despite the academic studies. At the same time, parents and education advocates decried the spending on EMOs especially at a time of severe financial distress. On May 31, 2007, after months of public protest and ignoring District recommendations and an alternative plan suggested by another commissioner, the SRC voted to renew all the EMO-managed schools for one year at a cost of $12 million.

Parents United statement on EMOs

As the district faces yet another year of $100-plus million deficits, we cannot afford to throw money at a failed political experiment. The School Reform Commission must use every penny to the advantage of students in the classroom. More important, to rebuild the trust of parents and community, the SRC must take a strong stand that it believes in data and achievement-oriented results, not political pressure.

Parents United remains concerned that the SRC continues to value EMOs above academic studies, public transparency, accountability and fiscal management in a time of budget crisis, concern for vulnerable sectors of children, and most important, academic achievement in some of the longest-suffering schools and communities in our city. We are appalled at the crass and blatant intrusion of politicians, Wall Street, and EMO executives to influence what should be an academic decision.

When every independent study has pointed to the overall failure of EMOs to significantly turn around struggling schools, it is time to end the charade. Parents United believes all children deserve programs that work. We advocate that failing EMOs be returned to a reinstated Office of Restructured Schools, that management fees be reduced in a time of budget crisis, and that contracts reflect quality delivery of services to all students.

Read the RAND/RFA study on EMOs here (PDF).
Read the District’s internal EMO study here.

More statements 

Statement on elimination of transpasses (6/24/08) 

Statement on contract negotiations with the new CEO (2/27/08)

Statement on GCA requirements (1/15/08)   

Statement on the appointment of Heidi Ramirez to the SRC (11/5/07) 

Statement on vote of No Confidence (5/29/07)