Founder and CEO of Edison Schools Inc.
Live Web cast June 28, 2000, 1 p.m. ET
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Christopher Whittle is a bow-tie wearing entrepreneur determined to reform education-while making a profit. Whittle is founder and CEO of Edison Schools Inc., which opened with four schools in August of 1995; it now runs 79 schools, and hopes to operate 108 next year. The progress should be good for the company's stock, which is traded on NASDAQ.
Some critics may frown at the combination of schools and stocks, but Christopher Whittle, frequently prone to controversy, remains unfazed.
Whittle now runs Edison, but may be best remembered for his Channel One project. Launched in 1989, the school newscast service provides free satellite equipment to schools, but the newscasts also come with advertisements -- and thus the controversy.
Many school districts banned Channel One because they didn't want students held captive to the advertising in exchange for the free equipment. Other districts embraced the idea and the channel now reaches 8 million students every day. Whittle sold the company in 1994, and soon focused on his efforts to reform education. He recruited Benno Schmidt, Jr., former president of Yale, to serve as Chairman of the Board of Edison. Whittle recently announced a partnership with IBM to build a new model for technology in schools.
Edison Schools, Inc., is now America's largest private manger of public schools, more than 38,000 students attend its partnership schools. Many of the schools Edison operates are charter schools, part of a small but rapidly growing national education reform movement.
Charter schools are created via a contract (or charter) with a state agency or local school board. In general, the charter grants the school greater autonomy. In return, the charter school has to meet the goals spelled out in the contract. Approximately 1,800 charter schools were operating last year in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Parent-teacher boards, community groups, and universities run most of them, but for-profit companies such as Edison are making serious inroads. Critics of charter schools worry about accountability and teacher quality, among other things. Proponents say charter schools are a quick, effective means to revolutionize education.
Whittle revolutionized the publishing industry and made millions early in his career by selling single-sponsor magazines. The publications were placed in doctors and dentists offices and other waiting rooms. When Whittle and his partner Phillip Moffitt took over an ailing Esquire magazine in 1979, many doubted they were up to the task of reviving a "real" publication. They turned it around and turned a profit in four years. Whittle brings the same determination to his education efforts.
Born on August 23, 1947 in the small town of Etowah, Tennessee, Whittle graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in American Studies.
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