Push for Accountability Is Changing Public Education

Published September 1, 2003

During the three days of the Education Industry Association’s annual conference, EDVentures 2003, the unmistakable mood of the almost 400 business representatives and educators who attended was one of optimism for the prospects of the entrepreneurial sector of K-12 education.

Significantly, two officials from the U.S. Department of Education attended the July 23-25 meeting in Boston to address two different sessions.

On the first day, U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Education Nina Rees addressed the group to explain how education entrepreneurs could help students achieve success through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. On the final day, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Gene Hickok presented his vision of what U.S. K-12 education would begin to look like in a few years, as the accountability and performance provisions of NCLB started to take effect.

“The idea is to empower the public in public education in order to transform–not just reform–public education,” said Hickok, noting the goal was not to end public education but to improve it.

Industry Changes

To set the stage at the opening of the conference, Peter Stokes, executive vice president of Eduventures, Inc., and Kosmo Kalliarikos, senior partner with The Parthenon Group, each provided an overview of the education industry.

“K-12 education is on the cusp of a challenging new era,” declared Stokes, saying school districts were being forced to change from simply being concerned about inputs to being measured on what they produce. Much of this new focus on outputs is being driven by NCLB. (See “NCLB Prompts Districts to Re-Examine Technology Plans,” page 18.)

According to Kalliarikos, public school administrators are facing increasing challenges. For example, at least 21 states have proposed cuts in K-12 education funding; student performance has largely remained flat over the past two decades; federal and state governments are demanding more tests of student achievement; and continuing teacher shortages plague certain subject areas. But as these challenges multiply, administrators begin to look around for help.

“There is a need for systemic solutions to increase performance and close achievement gaps,” said Kalliarikos, emphasizing that education service providers should focus on solutions rather than on specific products or tools. The model he suggested for emulation was IBM chief Lou Gerstner, who successfully changed IBM’s focus during the 1990s from selling hardware and software to selling solutions.


Tutoring was a major topic of interest at the conference. It is an $8 billion industry and growing, according to keynote speaker Edward E. Gordon, president and founder of Imperial Tutoring and Educational Services. Imperial recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, having tutored more than 20,000 children and 10,000 adults.

According to Gordon, the supplemental services component of NCLB brings major changes to the tutoring industry. Vouchers for supplemental services, including tutoring, will be given to low-income parents with children who are poor achievers and attend a failing school. Inclusion of tutoring in NCLB will begin the institutionalization of tutoring, and will begin to answer the question “What is a professional tutor?”

Gordon lists five major tutoring issues raised by NCLB that need to be addressed at the local and state levels. They are:

  • Requirements for recognition of tutors by the state board of education;
  • Consumer information from the school district to help parents choose a qualified professional tutor;
  • Federal clarification of the qualifications of a professional tutor vs. a volunteer tutor;
  • Collaboration between the state board of education and local Better Business Bureaus to address initial consumer complaints regarding tutoring services;
  • Federal NCLB recognition that tutoring services need to be research-based.

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

For more information …

The Chicago-area Better Business Bureau has published a pocket guide to Tutoring Services. It is available at the Bureau’s Web site at http://www.chicago.bbb.org.