The sale of Eduventures' Business Research Division is hardly the beginning of the end of days, but it does symbolize the end of the beginning. The school improvement industry may remain fragmented, but it is no longer emerging.

From my perspective, 2009 just may be that watershed year when American ingenuity is unleashed and a vibrant and robust knowledge-driven school improvement movement is launched.

If we want education policy “think tanks” rather than “marketing shops,” we need a better class of customer than today’s Department of Education.

Management consulting is becoming the new think tank in education policy, and for those interested an emerging school improvement market, learning more about their work is probably more important than following the education policy marketing shops.

Of education think tanks, Alexander Russo asked “what about influence, not to speak of value?” If these outfits are really policy marketing shops, that’s like asking the same about advertising after looking through any magazine. The ready answer is that in a world where everyone is marketing, those who refrain from it will find selling much harder.

This district seems open to firms that are focused more on business than education. I believe districts will come to pay something closer to the fees these firms have come to expect from the private sector than they have in the past, so it may be a market worth exploring.

The organizations Alexander Russo called think tanks don’t deserve the appellation. It's a bit like trying get consumers to accept wine spritzer as champagne, or langostino as lobster. They must perform a useful function in Washington, or they would not be in business, but that function is not what led people to place the label on RAND.

I thank Alexander Russo for trying to prompt debates of the first order at a time when eduwonks and edubloggers are all too focused on the trivia surrounding NCLB II. Friday, February 1, he asked: "The money (to start and support education think tanks) keeps pouring in.... But what about influence, not to speak of value?

The New York Times’ Sam Dillon wrote the most recent version of a story we see roughly every six months, which I’ll call the “virtual education wars.” It’s an easy write. Yet, they rarely help to focus the reader on the important issues of public policy – those that speak to the interests of the taxpayer, student and general public, rather than their instrumentalities – teachers union, districts and the private sector.

Firms committed to demonstrating efficacy through rigorous evaluation exist and some have been reasonably successful, but while their success might have something to do with the spirit of NCLB, it also happened despite the law’s administration.


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