DFT Newsletter The Edison Cancer

My Reply

It was a beautiful day. I was in my car on my way to St. Paul to attend a meeting of the Education Minnesota Governing Board. The temperature was mid-fifties, the sun was bright. Even the prospect of sitting through five hours of meeting could not dampen my spirits. A little music would make the drive perfect. Actually a new Lexus would've made it perfect, but I am a realist. Anyway, I punched the button for Minnesota Public Radio. Booming from all four speakers came an advertisement for Edison. So much for a nice day. I had something to occupy my thoughts all the way to St. Paul. I would like to share what I was thinking.

After nearly four years of dealing with Edison I have come to a number of conclusions. First, the predictions made in regard to the expansion of Edison have proven true. 1. This is a corporation which can only exist when expanding. At first the plan called for two schools, then three, soon four. Next? A high school appears likely. The number of students lured to Edison from Duluth schools is approaching one thousand. 2. The resulting damage to the district budget has been drastic. The situation is likely to worsen. 3. Secondly I believe that Edison represents one of the most serious threats to teacher unionism and collective bargaining to date. The teacher contracts at the local Edison schools could have been written by a robber baron. 4. Edison relies on substantial teacher turnover and low average salaries. A third conclusion is that Edison is a national problem. It cannot be dealt with only on the local level. 5. Although we must, and will continue to challenge them locally, the only way to contain the growth of this cancer is at the national level. This is what the radio advertisement brought home to me.

6. Edison is a corporation with resources which cannot be matched by the Duluth Public Schools, the D.F.T. or even Education Minnesota. Unlike these groups, 7. Edison does not have to balance a budget or bother with a bottom line. The fact that they keep losing money doesn't bother them. In fact they nearly boast about it. As long as they continue to expand, investors keep tossing them money. 8. Remember, in the "new economy" profitability is not a requirement for growth in stock value. 9. It doesn't have to be good, it just has to look good. Edison does its best to look good. I have to admit that they do a pretty decent job. It does help to have a national promotion and advertising campaign which is probably designed and implemented by an expensive PR firm. I would be surprised if all of the ads run by Edison locally were conceived and implemented by the Duluth Public Schools Academy. Edison knows how to put the "spin" on test scores. They know how to pitch their product. They are good at advertising and they do a lot of it. Of course not having the same advertising limitations faced by real public schools does give them a huge advantage. Edison resources can purchase parental loyalties with longer school days (less day care) and free computers. Edison resources make it possible to support schools which may be "loss leaders," to dump a school now and then and to constantly expand. As long as the Edisonians are able to "sell the sizzle" they don't actually need to have "the steak." If Edison is to be contained and countered, the effort must be at the national level.

10. It is because of this realization that two years ago I postponed a family trip so that I could attend a joint AFT-NEA meeting on Edison. This meeting brought together local leaders experienced in dealing with Edison. Last Spring I wrote to NEA President Bob Chase and AFT Present Sandra Feldman urging a national position on Edison. The letter resulted in Sue Anderson and myself meeting with AFT Secretary Treasurer Ed McElroy for nearly two hours to discuss how the AFT could assist us nationally and locally. Ed promised to bring the matter to the AFT Executive Council and to provide funding for projects in Duluth designed to improve our public image. Last week's Core Knowledge presentation at Glensheen came about due to AFT assistance. Still, it is what happens nationally which is most important. With this in mind I was honored to be offered the opportunity to write an opinion piece on "Stock Options for Teachers," which is an element of the Edison scheme, for the March issue of the American Teacher: Near the end of' April I will have a chance to discuss Edison with other local presidents at the AFT National Local Presidents' Conference. This will be at little or no cost to the local as I have been asked to give the opening remarks and be the host for the conference. AFT staff has been closely monitoring the growth and methods of Edison. A meeting has been scheduled at the AFT national headquarters in May to present what has been learned to local leaders from around the country. Local leaders will have an opportunity to advise the AFT and have input into the formation of national policy. I have been. asked to represent Minnesota (again at AFT expense).

You may remember Educational Alternatives Inc. This group was at one time running a number of school districts, including Hartford and Baltimore and growing rapidly. EAI executives were making fortunes off of stock options. Administrators were receiving huge salaries. The problem was that school employees were losing jobs and 11. kids weren't learning. It was not until the AFT went on the attack that the fortunes of EAI soured. One might make the case that EAI was done in by the AFT. We need a national policy to help us contain Edison in the same way we contained EAI.

Frank doesn't take any pot shots at the Board or the District but rather expends all his energy vilifying Edison. I was surprised to read this column because Frank has reportedly told people that fighting Edison was a costly blunder for the DFT. I presume Frank's attempt to portray himself as a valiant leader in the fight against Edison reflects a last ditch effort to rehabilitate his image with the DFT election just days away.







1. If Frank is right the moment Edison stops expanding it will collapse without the financial fuel of new revenue.  Frank expands on this theme towards the end of this piece. Of course, this could just be wishful thinking.

2.What damage? No more certainly than a teacher's contract that we can not afford without making cuts to programs.

3. This is Frank's ultimate concern, not keeping the customer satisfied. Back in 1996, when Bob Dole criticized the power of teacher's unions, Frank told me he thought Dole was a "fascist."

4. Edison did start with new teachers with lower average salaries than ISD 709. It remains to be seen if the Edison staff turns over or stays allowing their salaries to catch up to ISD 709 salaries. Its worth noting that DFT has never tried to organize the Edison teachers. So much for resurgent unionism.

5.God forbid that Edison would put pressure on other public schools to meet higher expectations.

6. Edison's total revenues are dwarfed by the billion dollars paid in annual teacher union dues. 

7. Edison has an unlimited money tree they don't have to pay any attention to their spending. If you believe this I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

8. Edison is not a dot com. It educates children.

9.If its only "show" and no "go" then Frank doesn't have to worry does he, or will Edison parents continue to send their children to inferior schools just because of glitzy advertising?










10. What a hardship!




11. If it turns out Edison kids aren't learning then more power to Frank.