Growing Business Interest Heralds Coming Revolution in Education

Published October 1, 1997

While the annual EdVentures conference has always attracted those involved in the business of education, the presence of investment firms at the seventh annual meeting of the Association of Educators in Private Practice (AEPP) offered evidence, according to attendee Paul Seibert, that a real revolution in education may not be too far off. The conference was held from July 31 to August 2 on the Vanderbilt University campus in Nashville, Tennessee.

“These firms are both looking for and advocating for the enormous business opportunity that they see as obvious on the education horizon,” says Seibert, director of Charter Consultants of Belleville, Illinois. He added that the U.S. spends more each year on education than it does on defense.

The adoption of a market approach to education reform was urged by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan in her keynote speech at the conference. She recommended strapping “the money on the back of the child.” Noting the success of the charter school movement in her state, Keegan emphasized the need for serious school reform.

“While educators who hang out a shingle remain a tiny fraction of the nation’s teachers, they are pioneering new ways for teachers and schools to operate,” said AEPP Executive Director Chris Yelich, a self-employed science teacher who works with schools on an individual contract basis.

“As entrepreneurs,” she added, “educators are discovering that the Three Rs can be good business.”

Although many of the conference’s sessions addressed current education reform issues, including “Charter School Resources,” “School Choice in Practice and in Court,” and “Urban Education,” other sessions focused on the future of the education industry. Conference participants discussed such topics as “The Future: Where Could This Industry Go?” “School Districts as Consumers,” “Education as an Industry,” “Moving from Educator to Entrepreneur,” “Getting Bigger,” and “Finance Partners.”

“Public education is America’s last great monopoly,” noted Charter Consultants’ Seibert, adding that “the free market abhors a monopoly.”

In Seibert’s view, the public education delivery system has grown too large and too inflexible to adapt to the rapid pace of technological, cultural, and economic change. Private schools, charter schools, vouchers, and supplemental educational services will, he predicts, become an increasingly important part of the U.S. education system.

“Wall Street meets Sesame Street head on,” says Seibert enthusiastically.

The “EdVentures ’97” conference was co-sponsored by the Charter Friends National Network and The Education Industry Report. Earlier conferences had been held in Wisconsin and Minneapolis; this year’s was the first held outside the upper Midwest. The change in venue apparently was a success: The conference attracted a record attendance of over 250.

Founded by Chris Yelich in 1990, AEPP began with just 16 charter members, all in Wisconsin. Today, it has grown to over 500 individual and organizational members from both the U.S. and Canada. Planning has already begun for next year’s conference, with Indianapolis, Indiana among the sites under consideration.

For more information about AEPP and private practice education, call executive director Chris Yelich at 800/252-3280.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].