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NCLB Outrages

The Education Industry Association’s Annual Washington Meeting

In the worst likely scenario, if the Democrats win the White House, and hold onto the House and the Senate, McKeon told the audience "you will be laying off people." If the best plausible scenario, if Republicans win the White House NCLB will still look something like the current Miller draft.

By Dean Millot

Yesterday I attended parts of the Education Industry Associationâs annual Washington policy conference:

⢠The keynote address by Republican Congressman Buck McKeon, ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, and this yearâs recipient of the trade groupâs "Friend of the Education Industry Award."

⢠A panel on the experience of special education providers with their various government clients - primarily school districts.

⢠A panel on the intersection of research, development, evaluation, and the sale of "innovative" products, programs and services.

My Observations:

Expanding EIAâs practical focus beyond SES providers. While it not only seemed that (Supplemental Education Services) SES providers dominated the meeting's attendance, and many participants prefaced their remarks in ways that emphasized that perception, It's fair to say that Executive Director Steve Pines made real efforts to expand the agenda. The special education session was substantively quite different from others in the meeting, but the problems had a similar ring (for example, school districts as both clients and competitors; the problem of "bad apples spoiling the whole bushel.") â and the providers were clearly grateful for the opportunity to contribute to, and be recognized by, the association.

I would much prefer to see a consolidation of school improvement providers into one trade group, but coordinated action is the next best thing. The second session was the result of a cooperative relationship with Knowledge Alliance. I think it was a bit theoretical to most of the audience, but most of the audience stayed to listen. Thatâs a good sign.

NCLB Reauthorization. Rep. McKeon gave unambiguous warning of an oncoming business crisis for the school improvement industry, and especially SES providers. There will be no reauthorization until after the next election, nor will there be a new education budget. In the worst likely scenario, if the Democrats win the White House, and hold onto the House and the Senate, McKeon told the audience "you will be laying off people." In the best plausible scenario, if Republicans win the White House NCLB will still look something like the current Miller draft.

McKeon offered two reasons for the industry to hope for something better than one of those two outcomes:

First, the fact that things happen in politics and maybe one of those things will happen between now and a reauthorization vote that will lead to a more favorable outcome. Reliance on luck is not a very good basis for business planning.

Second, moderate Democrats. McKeon was clear that he felt Chairman Miller was personally in favor of compromises that would leave the industry in a reasonable position, but that he was too far out on a limb with the party as a whole. McKeon also pointed out the success teachers unions had in electing Democrats to Congress in 2006 on anti-NCLB platforms.

In my view, this suggests the focus for industry lobbying activities between now and the 2009 reauthorization vote - the moderate Democrats in the House and Senate who voted for NCLB in 2001. Republicans are mostly on the industry's side. Were I in charge of EIA lobbying, I would go to the NEA and AFT Congressional Report Cards, and identify those Democrats who voted with the union less than 75-80 percent. I would then identify all the industry interests in their districts and start lobbying them. At the national level, I would focus on the one agreement that I think will sway moderates as a block â results. I would also not hesitate to point out that the industry supports higher spending to support NCLB. With higher spending, the market impact of less favorable provisions on AYP, differentiated consequences, and specific SES provisions may be easier for the industry to survive.

Make no mistake about this - we are talking about the difference between a reauthorized NCLB in which the industry survives to fight another day on Capitol Hill, and a law that makes the industry unsustainable. No investor who heard McKeon will be putting new money into firms whose business is based on NCLB any time soon. The question is whether firms can hang in long enough to profit from a turn around a few years out.

The intersection of research, development, evaluation, and sales. Too much of this discussion had the tone of a graduate seminar â conceptual and theoretical, plus "inside baseball": What is innovation; how much should government and the private sector spend on k-12 R&D; veiled references to internal politics about What Works Clearinghouse reviews and the role of ideology in evaluation under Reading First. I enjoy that kind of talk, but I was surprised that most attendees stuck it out. Maybe on this one the audience is ahead of the wonks.

The practical discussion revolved around setting a standard for what will be allowed into an NCLB market that is supposed to be confined to Scientifically Based Research, or for SES providers Research Based services. It's clear that the industry needs a simple, clear standard that firms, investors and buyers can understand and rely upon. That standard needs to 1) encourage new firms with innovative products to enter a market dominated by the brands of major publishers â and investors in those firms; 2) assure some floor of efficacy for school districts purchasing these products, services and programs; and 3) not set the bar so high that almost no one can enter the NCLB-funded market. That central question for the industry was not one the panel addressed, nor am I sure itâs one the community of stakeholders has the capacity or will to grapple with effectively. One test of this on the industry side will be the attention it pays to the reauthorization of the Institute for Education Sciences Reform Act.

Iâve offered EIA a chance to post its own review of the conference, and encourage others to make comments.

About Dean Millot [posted at Ed Week, where you can get hot links]:Marc Dean Millot formed New Education Economy in 2004 to provide comprehensive information services on the emerging "school improvement industry." The firmâs web-enabled publications include K-12Leads and Youth Service Market Reports, School Improvement Industry Week, and School Improvement Industry Announcements. ThinkingEdge provides consulting and advisory services. Millot was educated as a lawyer, trained as a strategic analyst. Since the early 1990âs he has has been a researcher, manager, investor and entrepreneur in k-12 education.

Millot has a unique perspective on an emerging market in products, services and programs to improve teaching and learning that is driven by No Child Left Behind. He has been a Senior Social Scientist in RAND Education, a contributor to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a grant officer at the school reform model incubator New American Schools Development Corporation, and later its Chief Operating Officer, and founding President of its equity and lending investment arm, the Education Entrepreneurs Fund. Millot served briefly as the CEO of the only (and sadly, failed) effort to create a membership-based national association of state grassroots charter school organizations (see here and here).

Millot's personal mission is harnessing business concepts to social purpose in pursuit of quality, scale and sustainability in public education.

— Dean Millot
edbizbuzz blog at Education Week


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