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Friday Guest Column: Ethics in Supplementary Educational Services Marketing

Alan J. Carter is Vice President of the Education Industry Association and Chief Executive Officer of University Instructors, Inc.

Many years ago, when I was but a young lad and could claim I didn’t know any better (even though I probably did); we had a pool table. Known only to my family (and those we had duped), this table was slightly warped on the playing surface and had a distinctive ‘break’ in front of the right side pocket. Those unaware of this feature would regularly miss shots, which we chalked up to offense against the Billiard Gods. My brother and I employed this to our economic advantage until the defect became commonly known and our friends stopped betting with us.

I have since reformed my ways, but this story is a classic example the ‘unlevel playing field’. In like manner, participants in the Supplementary Educational Services (SES) arena are often confronted with the odds sliding in favor of either a competitor or a district because the rules of the game are routinely ignored or not enforced. Most participants play by the rules and assume that others will do likewise.

Sadly, this is not the case when it comes to the marketing phase of SES.

Unlevel playing field conditions are routinely created when either a provider or district participants chooses to act outside of the rules. When this occurs, other participants not only suffer adverse economic consequences, but are also sorely tempted to react in kind. After all, if the rules don’t apply to some participants, they shouldn’t apply to any…right? Wrong! The choices made by SES participants in the face of these issues pose a critical threat to the school services industry as a whole, and if not curbed, might become the basis for discontinuance of SES altogether.

The Education Industry Association (EIA) was recently invited to meet with state officials in Florida to discuss ethics and enforcement in the SES community. This meeting not only served as an opportunity for EIA and state officials to collaborate in search of solutions, but also highlighted an embarrassing list of unethical marketing practices on the part of a group of SES providers.

I say embarrassing because the practices in question weren’t committed by newly approved providers who could claim they didn’t know any better (although they probably did), but by providers who had been involved in SES long enough to clearly know better. Further, these practices were not the results of a few over-zealous employees. They were systemic, occurred in multiple districts, and showed both planning and forethought.

While the EIA and its SES subcommittee are actively representing and often defending the interests of the SES provider industry, we are keenly aware that we must also defend high ethical standards. EIA and its member organizations encourage all SES providers (both private and district level) to join with us in support of SES through endorsement of the EIA Code of Ethics and Standards for SES Providers and to join our Campaign to Support Quality Tutoring for America’s Students. EIA will list for public view all organizations that have pledged to follow the Code. We will also work in cooperation with governmental bodies to ensure compliance at all levels. Details may be found on the EIA website.

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