Chris Whittle is relentless in his determination to prove that education can be a profitable business. More than 30 years ago, he launched the Edison Project. He spent millions on a design phase, hiring a team of experts to write a new curriculum. He even persuaded the President of Yale University, Benno Schmidt, to resign and lead his new company. Whittle assumed that George H.W. Bush would be re-elected in 1992 and would get Congress to pass a voucher program.

No vouchers in hand, the Edison Project contracted with districts to take over troubled schools and manage them. For a time, business was booming. Edison’s stock price soared to nearly $40 a share. But when results came in, and when districts cancelled contracts, the stock price collapsed to $0.14. Eventually, the Edison Project turned into EdisonLearning. Samuel Abrams wrote a book about the rise and fall of the Edison Project called Education and the Commercial Mindset.

Undaunted, Whittle started an international chain of for-profit private schools, called Avenues, in gorgeous new buildings with illustrious leaders. Tuition ($40,000-50,000) compared favorably to elite private schools. Although he lived grandly, he lost money. Before long, the board and the investors pushed him out.

Time for a new venture. Whittle has an apparently bottomless pool of rich investors, and they backed him again in creating the Whittle School & Studios. His ambitions were huge, planning a large chain in China.

But now the D.C. flagship of his latest venture just announced it is closing.

The Whittle School & Studios is shutting down its full-time campus in Washington this fall, suspending operations at the U.S. branch of what had been envisioned as a global private school on multiple continents.

The announcement to Whittle families Friday evening came after many months of financial turmoil at the ambitious for-profit enterprise launched by veteran education entrepreneur Chris Whittle.

He said they made the decision late Thursday after learning that a critical financing deal had been delayed.

The decision leaves students, teachers and staff in Washington scrambling just weeks before the next school year….

The Whittle School launched with a September 2019 opening in the Chinese coastal city of Shenzhen, followed days later by the debut of a Northwest Washington campus in a neighborhood full of embassies and private schools. The school on Connecticut Avenue hoped to one day serve 2,000 day and boarding students, ranging in age from prekindergarten through high school, with a tuition of more than $40,000 a year. It ended this school year with fewer than 130 students and 14 graduating seniors.


Whittle said the endeavor was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, as travel, in-person learning and cultural exchanges were suspended and financing faltered.

What’s next for Chris Whittle? Never count him out.