Sunday, April 10, 2016

Naked Education Profiteering

Do you like your education reform stripped of its tiniest figleafs, thrusting its ample and unrestrained flesh into the light in hopes of getting just one more dollar tossed at its feet? Well, then, meet the Education Industry Association.

The EIA has simple goals. From their website:

Since 1990, the EIA has worked to expand business opportunities for education entrepreneurs of all sizes in pre K-12 markets. Benefits include federal-state-local advocacy, public relations support, professional development, peer-to-peer networking and much more.

EIA is led by "a talented and diverse group of member-entrepreneurs," with a board headed up by Robert Lytle of the Parthenon Group, and including representatives of MaverixLab, Schnabel Learning Center, SABIS Education Systems, GEMS Education, and SmartStart Education, to name a few. Oh, and the Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, which might explain this ad currently on their front page:

Yes, getting your educational enterprise certified as okee-dokee by Johns-Hopkins is a "marketing opportunity." Which is pretty much how these folks think.

Who belongs to a group like this? Oddly, the membership listing page is empty. Though plenty of organization names are sprinkled around the site, tending to be a consulting outfit like Parthenon or some sort of edu-service provider. National Heritage Academies and Charter Schools USA are on the leadership board. Scholastic Traits Writing is a sponsor.

But we know what membership costs and what the benefits are.  Dues are tuned to your edu-business's revenues, so an "emerging" business doing under $50K can join for $495 a year, while the platinum members with revenues of more than $7 million join for $6,300. These dues get them such goodies as "government relations support" and "public relations/communications support" as well as other networking bonuses.

Perhaps best of all, though, is that membership at any level at all gets you a spot at EIA's annual festival of education profiteering, EDVentures. We can still take a look at the 2015 schedule and line-up, and boy does it sound... inspirational. Let's skim some highlights.

Pre-conference, on Wednesday morning, there was an Innovation Lab Competition, where edupreneurs could network and compete for backing for their latest bright idea, with entrepreneurial feedback-- so kind of like a science fair and an episode of Shark Tank combined.

Then the sessions began. Here are some of the most promising:

John Stuppy (MBA, PhD, CEO) of EDUMETRIX  on "Grow Your Business and Prepare To Sell." I'm going to quote liberally form the preview, because it's a good preview of where this convention's heart and head are located:

Attend this session and learn how your business can hit aggressive sales and profit goals and increase your customer base fast with RFP's, large district sales, business development and strategic partnerships. These strategies have helped EIA members grow, add new revenue sources and dominate their market. John will introduce a powerful process to identify your highest return on investment (ROI) opportunities and achieve maximum results with minimum cost and risk. You'll also learn invaluable tips on how to prepare your company for the best exit, maximum sale price and best package.

There is just no portion of that which does not sound awesome, though it is extra-special that the idea is to have an exit strategy before you even begin.

Four PhD's from Johns Hopkins were there to explain what a benefit it is for your business to get third-party evaluators to "produce evidence" that your product is awesome, which will help "differentiate" it in the marketplace. JHU and its Center for Research and Reform in Education covered their many services.

That day ended with Game Night, which seemed to include drinking, networking, and winning at some games, though it's not clear if they were playing Gin Rummy or Monopoly or Pin the ROI on the Taxpayer.

Thursday AM started with a motivational session with Olympian Ryan Millar (volleyball-- I had to look it up) who now runs some sort of consulting biz and will teach folks how to "create a culture of accountability to achieve individual and organizational results."

Then a session on "The Art and Science of Selling Professional Development Services" which emphasized how to create relationships and the "key component" of selling your PD, which is not, as you might have imagined, how good the PD is, but is "understanding funding sources."

Former CNN Executive Producer for Education Donna Krache was there. Now head of the MindRocket Media Group, she was there to give attendees "practical tips for enlisting media to promote your business."

Thursday afternoon also included a session on how to scale up your business and how to find the real decision-makers in a district and target them for best sales impact. Thursday afternoon also included a session that actually talked about students, focusing on how academic coaching could used as a tool "both for supporting students and as a business growth opportunity."

But perhaps the most astonishing session of the day, if not the convention, was "Evaluating K-12 Resources to Serve the Underserved." The blurb for this starts with a... well, let's say "bracingly honest" sentence. "Socio-economic changes in student populations are redefining our possibilities for market share." More poor non-white children in school means more money-making possibilities for us. Way to be warriors for social justice, guys.

Friday, to wrap things up, Anthony Crosby, Coordinator of Prince William County Schools in Virginia was there to make sure we "know how to leverage procurement strategies for opportunity and success."

The group also sponsors EI Days, a more politically oriented conference that happens in DC (they've been doing that one for only fifteen years). This year's EDVenture conference will be on July 27-29th at the Liason Hotel in DC, and I fully expect to miss it.

I concede that the education world cannot simply be fluffy bunnies carried to happy clouds by friendly unicorns, divorced from any understanding of How Business Gets Done in the world. But it's one thing to be aware of the realities of business and another thing to have reality bumping and grinding its pasty naked flesh under harsh fluorescent lights while you are trying to eat lunch. And I give the EIA people points for honesty-- at least they're not trying to pretend that they're interested in education for any reason other than to make a buck.

But this is still part of the disease, a symptom of the creeping malady that causes far too many people to look at students and see nothing but stacks of dollars. If your primary concern is not student needs or actual educational quality, then maybe you'd better just put on your clothes, go home, and let the rest of us get back to work.

1 comment:

  1. Naked indeed. All local superintendents and boards of ed need to read this.