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Slow growth in for-profit EMOs

Sept. 18, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Despite Michigan leading the way in the hiring of education management organizations to run its pubic schools, a study released this week by Western Michigan University in partnership with two other universities finds little growth in the hiring of for-profit public school management companies on the national level.

View the full report online
"Profiles of For-Profit Education Management Organizations"

The study was jointly released by the WMU College of Education, the Commercialization in Education and Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The study was compiled as part of the 2008-09 edition of "Profiles of For-Profit Management Organizations" and confirms that the number of schools managed by for-profit companies remains relatively flat.

But Michigan still has a disproportionate number of for-profit education companies, also known as education management organizations or EMOs, running its schools.

"Michigan leads the nation in terms of the extent that private, for-profit companies are operating public charter schools," says Dr. Gary Miron, a WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology who co-wrote the report with Jessica Urschel, a WMU graduate research assistant, and Dr. Alex Molnar, a professor at Arizona State University.

Miron says that currently 191 or 78 percent of Michigan's charter schools are operated by for-profit EMOs, far ahead of Florida, the next highest state, with 136 charters operated by EMOs and Arizona, with 103. Among other Midwestern states with high EMO management of charters is Ohio, with 95.

Miron and Urschel say learning about EMOs is especially critical in Michigan because of the current pressure on low-performing public school districts to hire management companies.

"Over the summer, we have seen Detroit Public Schools suddenly hire three out-of-state EMOs to take over some of its struggling public schools," Urschel says. "This may be just the beginning."

Education management organizations

Education management organizations are private firms that manage charter schools or conventional public schools under contracts, either with charter holders or with public school districts. The EMO industry emerged in the 1990s as part of an effort to utilize market forces to reform public education.

The "Profiles" report is intended for a broad audience that includes policymakers, educators, school district officials and school board members as well as investors, EMO employees or education industry participants. It provides a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive overview of the for-profit education management industry.

The 2008-2009 "Profiles" report lists 95 for-profit EMOs in 31 states enrolling a total of 339,222 students.

'Profiles' report--other findings

  • Many large and medium-sized EMOs are expanding into new service areas, such as supplemental education services.
  • Imagine Schools Inc. has the largest number of schools (76) under management.
  • EdisonLearning (formerly Edison Schools) experienced a decrease in the number of fully managed schools for the second year in a row, with 62 public schools under management in 2008-09, down from 80 in 2007-08. However, it still enrolls the largest number of students (37,574) of any for-profit EMO. K12 Inc., which operates 24 "virtual" schools whose students attend from home via an Internet-based curriculum and distance-learning, enrolls almost as many students, 37,543.

The "Profiles of For-Profit Education Management Organizations" report is available online at: http://epicpolicy.org/publication/profiles-profit-emos-2008-09.

For more information, contact Dr. Gary Miron, WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology, at (269) 599-7965 or gary.miron@wmich.edu.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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