Assistance and Accountability in Externally Managed Schools

The Case of Edison Schools, Inc.

Published in: Peabody Journal of Education, v. 83, no. 3, July 2008, p. 423-458.

Posted on RAND.org on July 01, 2008

by Julie A. Marsh

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Edison Schools, Inc., is the largest and most visible among a growing number of Education Management Organizations that have entered into contracts to manage public schools, including both conventional and charter schools. Edison's approach to managing schools is comprehensive, and it distinguishes itself from most other school improvement strategies by simultaneously addressing both the resources and assistance provided to schools and the accountability systems under which school staff operate. In this article the authors explore the ways in which the assistance and resources provided by Edison (including diverse professional development opportunities, materials, technology, and other tools), as well as accountability mechanisms (such as monitoring and rewards), have translated into principal and teacher actions, and the factors that facilitated or constrained educators' efforts to implement the Edison design and improve teaching and learning. Drawing on data gathered from extensive interviews, observations, and document reviews collected during a four-year comprehensive study of Edison schools, they demonstrate how Edison intends to promote not only educators' capacity but also their motivation and opportunity to deliver high-quality instruction. The authors examine variation that occurs across schools as teachers and principals respond to these system-level efforts. In addition, they identify several important predictors of variation in implementation, including the strength of instructional leadership provided by the principal and the presence or absence of district-imposed constraints such as union contract rules.

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