The massive debts and outrageous accounting scandals that have sent shares plummeting and clouded the future of industry giants such as WorldCom and Vivendi Universal have made one thing clear: Schools are as vulnerable to the missteps and misfortunes of big businesses as are shareholders and other consumers.

Like other markets, the education industry has experienced a record number of mergers and acquisitions since last year. But as the recent troubles of Vivendi and WorldCom illustrate, corporate consolidation can compound the sting when things go wrong.

In early July, French

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