Reading, Writing, and Revenue

The Edison Project's formula is simple: Take a Minneapolis public school, add some entrepreneurial savvy, and watch the profits roll in. Trouble is, it doesn't add up.

After looking at the district's figures, Chubb, the Edison executive vice president, deems the math results "mixed." Dave Heistad, director of research and evaluation for the Minneapolis school district, has somewhat stronger words. "It's not a pretty picture in math," says Heistad. Both men, however, agree that one year is too short to fully evaluate Edison's scores.

On one of the first days of the 1999-2000 school year, Devrae Gilreath--one of five teachers remaining at Edison from last year--methodically calls out a countdown, giving her fourth-grade students the signal to move on to a new activity. The kids, dressed in neatly pressed black-and-white school uniforms, settle into their seats and tidy up their tables.

Beverly Bjork, still serving as the start-up director for the school's first three months this year, takes over the class while Gilreath heads for a library whose shelves--nearly empty when WCCO covertly came calling a year ago--are now filled with books. In the quiet setting, she almost visibly exudes energy, arms gesturing and earrings bouncing as she talks.

Jeff Tolbert

"I'll be honest, it was extremely challenging here last year," Gilreath acknowledges. "Much more challenging than a Minneapolis public school. But when you're challenged, it stretches you to grow. I don't want to ever be in a job where I could do it with my eyes closed.

"I don't think the Edison Design is for everyone," she continues. "But if you follow the Edison Design, you see the positive energy and you see the kids really growing. Everybody is so energized and excited about working here this year."

Louise Sundin, the teachers' union president who dealt with a steady stream of Edison complaints last year, takes a more cautious view. "If they want to say it was all start-up problems, that's fine," Sundin says. "Now it's time to see what's due to start-up and what's systemic."

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