An education management organization (EMO) is a "private organization or firm that manages public schools, including district and charter public schools." Last year, 296 EMOs managed 1,928 schools across the United States. The chart above shows data on their student results from a new edition of Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations. Some key findings:
- The weakest reported results come from for-profit virtual schools that deliver their curriculum and provide instruction through the Internet and using electronic communication. Just 27 percent of those schools made AYP last year.
- The next weakest results come from large for-profit EMOs running 10 or more schools, with 43 percent of those schools making AYP.
- The strongest results, with 63 percent of schools making AYP are shown by for-profit EMOs that run three or fewer schools and by nonprofits that run four to nine schools.
I don't want to overstate the implications of these numbers. The report rightly calls these AYP results a "crude" measure. I'd love to see comparisons using NAEP or another consistent assessment, and I'd love to see scores that include a full curriculum of subjects, and I'd love to see scores that give partial credit for partial student success, rather than making an "all or nothing" proficiency judgment.
On the other hand, numbers like these do invite further exploration, with two issues looking especially important:
- What are the right steps to ensure that virtual learning options are strong options? Teaching quality doesn't develop without work in any school That 27 percent is a good reminder that quality isn't guaranteed on-line either.
- How can EMOs take effective school approaches to a large scale? Can what works at one, two, or five schools be reliably repeated in a dozen or a hundred schools? Maybe, someday, school improvement will be as replicable as the taste of a Big Mac. The 43% shown above suggests that "scalability" like that is not --or not-yet-- a reliable option, at least as a for-profit strategy.