While union pressure and new taxes expand the public education monopoly, some education-reform efforts are growing through free enterprise. Edison Schools, the nation's largest for-profit manager of public schools, this month acquired LearnNow, a growing school-management firm based in New York City. Edison currently manages 113 public schools and 57,000 students; its LearnNow acquisition will increase the firm's reach by 11 schools, 5,000 students-and a projected $38 million in revenue for the 2001-2002 academic year. Since opening in 1999, LearnNow has concentrated its commercial school-management efforts in "under-resourced" urban areas such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, Minn. When the Edison acquisition deal is complete, LearnNow's chairman and CEO Eugene Wade will join Edison's executive staff and lead development teams specializing in major new urban clusters of schools. That may prove a dam-buster for Edison. The company earlier this year lost its bid to assume management of several troubled New York City public schools (see WORLD, May 26, 2001). Meanwhile, the San Francisco school board is attempting to cancel the company's contract to run Edison Charter Academy, a Noe Valley, Calif., elementary school. The board alleges violations of California's education code, including acts of racial bias, a charge Edison flatly denies. Meanwhile, 80 percent of parents of students at the Noe Valley academy signed a petition supporting the company's performance. "Before, my son was passed from second to third grade and he couldn't read," said Vilma Ticas, whose son has attended the school under both government and private management. "Now, he is improving dramatically." Basket case
The rise of the small investor during the 1980s popularized convenient, one-stop-shop investment vehicles such as mutual funds. Now online brokerages are rolling out another user-friendly way for Main Street investors to brave Wall Street: "Stock baskets." Stockbrokers have long used "basket-trading"-or trading stocks in large lists or groups-to execute securities transactions. But last year, FolioFN.com and NetFolio.com, a pair of Internet-based investment firms, packaged the concept for small investors who trade online. This month, E*TRADE Group announced it would partner with Standard & Poors (S&P) to create 21 "baskets" that carry the imprimatur of the famed New York-based investment analysis firm. Also called "folio trading," stock baskets are prepackaged securities portfolios that combine the convenience and diversification of a mutual fund, while offering brokerage account perks like direct stock ownership, expense control and, perhaps most importantly, control over the timing of taxable events. Investors can use stock baskets to track and trade a collection of securities as they would a single investment. Some baskets hold only stocks from a specific index: the "20 largest securities by market cap in the S&P 500," for example. Other baskets are sector-based, and filled with securities from specific industries such as "telecommunication services" or "consumer staples." Investment firms market "off-the-shelf" baskets, but also let clients build their own. "Stock baskets have made owning a wide diversity of stocks easier for the small investor," noted Katherine Pajak, spokeswoman for Burbank, Calif.-based UNX, a Web-based folio-trading system for investment professionals. "Basket-trading lets investors utilize [their] own investment strategy ... rather than buying someone else's preset investment strategy." Information nation
While the current economic slowdown has softened the job market across many industries, employer demand for information technology (IT) workers will continue to outstrip supply, according to a survey by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). The ITAA asked 685 firms who employ IT workers about their hiring criteria and expectations for the coming year. Among key findings:
- Though demand for IT workers is down 44 percent from 2000, openings for talent remain plentiful: Employers will attempt to fill over 900,000 new IT jobs in 2001. Approximately 425,000 IT positions will go unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.
- Non-IT firms-that is, firms that hire IT professionals, but do not sell or service IT products-will account for about two-thirds of this year's IT worker demand.
- Employers surveyed said they preferred candidates with four-year college degrees for jobs in database development/administration, enterprise systems, programming/ software engineering, and technical writing. Private technical schools pulled the highest marks for network design/administration and digital media.
More than 10.4 million people in the United States-not including those employed by government, nonprofits, or small entrepreneurial firms-are IT workers. The field now accounts for 7 percent of all U.S. jobs.