More than 300 education entrepreneurs from across the country gathered in Baltimore in late July for the 15th annual EDVentures conference, convened by the Education Industry Association (EIA), to discuss standards for excellence and how the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has increased the need for supplemental service providers, such as after-school tutoring and mentoring for students in failing schools.
EIA Executive Director Steve Pines told members the highlight of the year was developing standards and a code of ethics for providers of supplemental services, including provisions for maintaining integrity and avoiding conflicts of interest.
“The theme of this conference is Standards for Excellence,” Pines said. “We want to extend that theme throughout the industry beyond the conference. We want to have values that all of our members embrace and can really own. In doing that, we’ve created quality standards–what makes a quality tutor. We put out some ethical guidelines.”
For example, under those standards, a tutor may be an undergraduate student with at least 60 credit hours who has completed an approved tutor-training program; a master tutor would hold at least a bachelor’s degree or teaching certificate and have completed an approved tutor-training program if that degree is not in education. These are the first steps, Pines said, “of an accrediting process as an option for consumers to use when shopping for an educational resource.”
One of those supplemental providers is Chris Whittle, co-founder and CEO of Edison Schools, a private company that runs more than 1,000 K-12 schools currently enrolling 250,000 students across 20 states, who delivered the keynote address.
Whittle used the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) statistics to invoke the enormity of the country’s educational challenge. One of every three students–15 million nationwide–is functionally illiterate, a statistic that has not changed in 15 years.
“This is as if every child in 30,000 schools is below literacy level,” Whittle said in his address. “This is more children that we have below adequate literacy levels than England has children.”
Though the United States spends $400 million every school hour, Whittle said, the vast sums of money have failed to improve student performance in a decade and a half. “This is a chronic condition in America today. There are five million people that work in education today,” Whittle said. “For the most part, those five million people work very hard. So it is not for lack of effort. And it is also not really a lack of money.”
The problem, Whittle said, is twofold: a lack of continuity, and the absence of a world-class delivery system. Public school boards change every two to four years, while superintendents, on average, change every three years. With each change comes a new set of ideas, which usually receive a lukewarm response from rank-and-file teachers.
Whittle also called on the federal government to help by increasing its role in K-12 education. The federal government spends $7 billion a year on health care research, but only $260 million a year on education research.
He suggested the Department of Education follow the example of the Department of Defense. When the DoD wants a new weapons system, he noted, it issues a request for proposals for the necessary innovations, chooses the best, and then funds it.
The three-day conference featured two dozen service and product vendors (including several EIA members); 23 workshops on topics as varied as financing a small business and legal issues for private practitioners of educational services; four Learning Labs where vendors showcased their unique products and services; and several networking and development events.
Paul H. Seibert ([email protected]) is editor of Illinois Charter School Facts.
For more information …
For more information on the Education Industry Association and EDVentures 2006, to be held in Denver next July, visit http://www.educationindustry.org.
See also, “Education Entrepreneurs Gather in Evanston,” School Reform News, October 2004, available online at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=15706, and “Push for Accountability Is Changing Public Education, School Reform News, September 2003, at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=12754.