Hoping To Raise Profile, School 'Industry' Forms Trade Group

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Companies involved in for-profit education—from selling chalk to managing schools—have formed a new trade group to raise their profile with the public.

The Education Industry Leadership Board has representatives from such well- known ventures as the management company Edison Schools Inc. and the tutoring leader Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. It also includes about 20 other education services providers, as well as several consultants and financial analysts who track the industry.

Michael R. Sandler, the chairman of the group, said the public perception of for-profit education mostly revolves around Edison, which is the nation's largest private manager of traditional public schools and charter schools.

"We have to create a public awareness that for-profit education is broad and making an outreach at all levels," said Mr. Sandler, who is the chairman of Eduventures.com, a Boston research firm that closely tracks the sector.

The members of the industry group probably don't have enough common goals for government lobbying, and they haven't committed any money to that, he said.

For now, the board will focus on public relations.

"When we say it's a $100 billion industry, that's sort of shocking to a lot of people," Mr. Sandler said.

Chris Yelich, the executive director of the Association of Education Practitioners and Providers, a group made up mostly of individual educators working in private practice, agreed that the industry lacks a distinct image.

"When you talk about the education industry today, people still give you quizzical looks," said Ms. Yelich, whose group is affiliated with the industry board.

This is not the first time education-related businesses have formed a trade group. About five years ago, several school management concerns, bus-transportation companies, and other private contractors formed the Education Services Council. But that group has fallen by the wayside.

Members of the new group met last month with Beth Ann Bryan, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Ms. Yelich said the trade group's members described the purposes of the organization, then listened to Ms. Bryan talk about the Bush administration's education agenda.

Mr. Paige is no stranger to private contracting of education services. As the superintendent of schools in Houston, he contracted with a private company, Community Education Partners Inc., that operates two alternative schools for students with disciplinary problems.

Mr. Sandler said the board's first goal would be to produce a white paper explaining the role of for-profit education providers.

"This is a small, grassroots organization," he said. "We have our work cut out for us just getting our message out."

Among the other board members are executives with Inspirica Ltd., a New York City college-counseling firm formerly known as Stanford Coaching; Children's Comprehensive Services Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based company that serves children in detention and mental health facilities; School Specialty Co. of Appleton, Wis., a major educational products supplier; and National Heritage Academies Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based charter school operator.

Nancy Van Meter, an associate director of the American Federation of Teachers, said she was skeptical that the trade group would do anything but try to paint a rosy picture of for-profit education.

Many companies that manage schools already are adept at releasing slick, publicity-minded reports about their efforts, she said.

"They generally focus on producing promotional materials that assist them in their goal of expanding," Ms. Van Meter said. "If this new group is going to be marching to the same tune, I'm not sure we're going to benefit greatly by its establishment."

Vol. 20, Issue 33, Page 9

Published in Print: May 2, 2001, as Hoping To Raise Profile, School 'Industry' Forms Trade Group
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