The Philadelphia School Reform Commission appears poised to renew the contracts of outside management companies that run eight public schools that have underperformed compared with district schools.
The providers who run the eight schools would receive one-year contract extensions that give them $500 extra per student they educate, despite lagging district schools' test scores and growth. An additional eight schools have seen strong student gains and would receive two-year contract extensions.
Benjamin W. Rayer, an associate superintendent, made the recommendations to the commission at yesterday's planning meeting. The panel is scheduled to vote on the matter next week.
Rayer and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said they were not giving the private providers - including for-profit companies such as EdisonLearning - a free pass. They said they needed additional data before making long-term decisions.
"I think we're treating them fairly by saying, 'Here are the criteria, and either you make it or you don't,' " Ackerman said. "They got the same pass that every school that's underperforming got."
Rayer said the district would not allow private managers to keep contracts for failing schools.
"When we have schools that don't work, we're taking them back," he said.
In all, 28 district schools are run by outside managers. Ten were given three-year contracts last year, and Rayer has made recommendations for the additional 16.
The fate of the two high schools run by outside providers - Rhodes and Martin Luther King - has not yet been determined. Rayer said he needed more time to evaluate their performance, and would make recommendations by next week.
Rayer also called for the commission to restructure contracts with private providers, including specific performance targets and giving the outside managers more autonomy in their schools. Under the new contracts, the private provider, not the district, would evaluate principals, for instance.
The district should also implement annual reviews of the privately-managed schools' and providers' performance.
Rayer is proposing that after the underperforming schools' year extension, the district either take those schools back into the fold or grant another yearlong contract.
In 2002, the district embarked on the largest experiment in privately managed schools in America, with 45 failing schools given to outside managers.
Over seven years, the schools' performance has been uneven.
Rayer called the district's model of hiring private companies to operate schools " not a perfect model, and I think everyone recognizes that."
The new accountability measures, he said, should strengthen it.