Entrepreneurial creativity, private investment, and competition have been among America's great strengths. Can they be harnessed to improve troubled public schools? Or is private management of public schools at best a gimmick, and at worst an undemocratic sellout?
In the 1990s, some failing school systems turned to private education management organizations to manage their schools. The EMOs promised academic improvement to families and profits to their investors. Wall Street and foundations lavished hundreds of millions of dollars on for-profit and nonprofit start-ups, and thousands of students' educations began to be directed not by school officials, but by private companies.
In Learning on the Job, industry insider Steven Wilson, the founder and CEO of Advantage Schools, looks back on the first tumultuous decade of this social experiment. Digging deep into the academic, financial, logistic, and political records of seven leading EMOs, including his own, he reveals the potential and pitfalls of their business and educational models, and their actual successes in the classrooms and the boardrooms. Have they given their students a better education? Can they succeed as businesses? Can businesses in fact run better public schools than school districts?
With remarkable honesty and fairness on an ideologically charged topic, Wilson describes the follies and wisdom, overreaching and real accomplishment, of the first education entrepreneurs. Acknowledging that they had much to learn about the real-world challenges of running schools, he passionately defends the promise of private involvement in public schooling.
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Steven F. Wilson is Senior Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.Review:
Steven Wilson spent years developing a business model that aimed to overcome the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of urban public schools, and finally launched a company to run charter schools under contract. Sobered but still hopeful, he here gives a fascinating account of how his model, and that of six other private education organizations, have worked so far, and analyzes what they can do in the future to improve public education. (Nathan Glazer, author of We Are All Multiculturalists Now)
Sage yet passionate, battle-scarred but optimistic, Steven Wilson has produced a magisterial appraisal of America's early experience with the privatizing, outsourcing, and reinventing of public education. This illuminating book offers a much-needed and timely set of lessons, challenges, and opportunities. (Chester E. Finn Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Education)
Learning on the Job is a fair-minded, thoughtful, and deeply informed analysis of private education management organizations, which are assuming an increasingly important role in American public education. Steven Wilson has emerged from the trenches to give a balanced and perceptive critique of their promise--and their problems too. (Diane Ravitch, author of Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform)
By 2005 only 240,000 of America's 60 million school children attended public schools run by education management organizations. Few, if any, of those organizations were yet in profit and the educational gains their schools had made were bitterly contested. In Learning on the Job, Steven Wilson offers us a timely and convincing analysis of why this happened...There are real insights here, not just into the short-termism of entrepreneurial interest but also into the structural weaknesses of American public education. His book is enjoyable, clear, and fair-minded: on any basis, a major contribution to an important debate. (Michael Duffy Times Educational Supplement 2006-02-10)
Refrain[s] from cant and puffery...[Wilson has] much good advice for others who might want to try starting their own schools. (Jay Mathews Washington Post 2006-01-03)
[A] lucid and engaging analysis...[Wilson] proves to be a perceptive analyst of the industry. (Education Next 2006-01-01)
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Book Description Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2006. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 425pp. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾". Bookseller Inventory # 077409
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