Submitted By: Steve Pines, EIA Executive Director
As Washington, DC enters another long, hot summer, the headlines would suggest that the political establishment is focused on anything BUT education. Weinergate. The debt ceiling. The unemployment numbers. Sarah Palin running for the Republican presidential nomination – or not. Meantime, reauthorization of, even any real action on, the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) seems remote at best.
But beyond the headlines are storm clouds for education entrepreneurs. Education Secretary Arne Duncan just this weekend announced that his Department would offer school districts and states relief from the strictures of what is now “No Child Left Behind” in an expanded program of waivers. For the past year, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has led an increasingly shrill battle against for-profit career colleges and for program-killing regulations – actions which have wiped billions from companies’ market capitalization and clouded the sector’s viability. While Harkin’s diatribe has been focused (so far) on for-profit higher education companies, it doesn’t require a soothsayer to see that K-12 education companies are likely to be his next target.
So lest we believe we can wait until the Senate and House education committees actually act on ESEA before we engage with Capitol Hill and the Obama Administration, I’m here to say that the education industry must act — and act now — to protect our right to compete fairly and openly for public funding, and to remind policymakers of our positive impact on public education at all levels. EIA has a plan on how to do just that, by engaging and partnering with our brethren in educational publishing, software, online learning and research, to form the Coalition on Education Innovation & Quality.
The concept is to create a temporary, umbrella group comprising key education trade associations and companies which represent and provide preK-12 education products, technologies and services. In addition to EIA, the Coalition would include such members as the American Association of Publishers, the Association of Educational Publishers, SIIA (Education Division), International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), and the Knowledge Alliance. The Coalition would also reach out for support from individual EIA members, allowing it to become an EIA special interest group as well as a sector-wide umbrella group.
The purpose of the Coalition will be to use the power and influence of our collective sector (1) to communicate the message to policymakers that ours is a significant and growing business sector dedicated to education reform and improvement on a national scale; and (2) to advocate for the full and fair inclusion of private sector education companies in any and all competitive and formula funding opportunities at the federal, state and local levels.
The Coalition on Education Innovation & Quality will mark the first time, at least that I’m aware, that the entire K-12 education industry has come together to make its collective voice heard and understood – and to tell our story of partnership, of commitment to schools and students, and of demonstrated successes.
Through the Coaltion, we will document the contributions of the private sector to school reform efforts across the board. We will point to industry-wide best practices that have resulted in improved instruction and enhanced academic achievement. We will point out that ours is a sector dedicated to making public-private partnerships work. And we will show the economic impact education companies have on local economies and communities.
I look forward to discussing further details about the Coalition on Education Innovation & Quality during EDVentures 2011 in San Francisco. In the meantime, I ‘m interested in hearing from you with any questions, suggestions, or perspectives you believe would be useful, as we prepare to make our case to federal policymakers before ESEA becomes a pitched debate.