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Ed-biz: Where business and education meet

By GREGORY FOSSEDAL, Special to UPI   |   March 31, 2003 at 5:26 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 31 (UPI) -- Every Tuesday, starting on April 1, United Press International will post this report, "Ed-biz," for qualifying news and feature clients around the world. The feature focuses on the business of education as if it were, well, a business. Increasingly, it is --in two ways.

First, many of the most innovative developments in education are taking place not in the regulated public-school "education blob," as William Bennett has called it, but in the private sector.

Software companies from California to Utah to Massachusetts provide some of the most creative opportunities for learning.

Online universities and high schools, often working in cooperation with home-schooling mothers and fathers, graduate qualified students at a fraction of the cost of what we call "regular schools" and provide services to handicapped and special education students as well.

Private certification services, such as those offered by Microsoft and Cisco, send graduates to jobs paying as much as $50,000 a year and up -- at a cost less than one-tenth that of attending a four-year public university.

Indeed, education is one of the top-performing sectors of the U.S. equities market. Education stocks are actually up over the last two years.

Second, within public education itself, much of the drive for innovation is coming from the private sector.

The Washington Post and Kaplan "Score" learning centers have a record of teaching children reading and math -- children who many public schools said just can't learn. (One of my own sons went from nine months behind his grade level to almost a year ahead, thanks to Score.)

Some professional athletes -- Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan -- have tried to help the public school system from the outside, providing grants to teachers, or even (in the case of David Robinson) sponsoring their own schools. Others -- Reggie White, Randall Cunningham and others -- have taken the logic another step and actively support school voucher programs.

Business leaders such as Pat Rooney, Ted Forstmann and John Kirtley give support and guidance to parents and teachers looking to expand choices through scholarships, vouchers, public school choice and other methods.

John Walton, David Brennan, Bill Gates, and others support and in some cases operate public charter schools that out-perform the competition.

Indeed, last year, the head of the Akron, Ohio branch of the National Education Association, who had been thumping his chest about plans to outperform Brennan's White Hat schools with NEA-operated charters, quietly tucked his tail between his legs and admitted defeat.

"We can't compete," he told the Akron Beacon-Journal, blaming this on insufficient resources.

This is not a criticism of public school teachers, but, on the contrary, an observation that they are hampered by their own anti-choice union elites and a Soviet-style management system.

In states like New York, Texas and Florida, a teacher can't even purchase a math or reading textbook unless it has been approved by highly politicized committees in the state legislature and the state department of education.

In California, one private foundation had a difficult time even getting public schools to accept a donation of graduated readers, because the resulting curriculum meant change and accountability for the classrooms that used them.

Marva Collins, and around the country, thousands of other public school teachers, have left the public school "blob" to set up academies, charter schools, and other institutions of their own.

Former public school teacher John Saxon developed a mathematics textbook that has revolutionized instruction in the classrooms that use it, including many previous under-performing districts in Texas and Oklahoma. Uniformly, these education entrepreneurs say they find they can get much more done working beside the system than within it.

"On average," American education has changed little in the last 10 years, even given the heroic efforts of these and other innovators. The system has proven very hard to move.

Yet on the margin, which is where change occurs in markets and in societies, a vast revolution is under way. Today's education system resembles the U.S. Post Office in the early 1970s, prior to the surge of private courier services. Improvement and, yes, competition are on the way. Public schools, meet Federal Express.

"Ed-biz" will focus on that dynamic, cutting edge, as business generates alternatives and promotes change within the schools. This, we think, is where the education news is. Look for the first Ed-biz column on Tuesday.


(Gregory Fossedal is an associate editor of Educationnews.org.)

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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