Avoiding talk of its financial and administrative problems, the Education Leaders Council tried to give itself a fresh start at its annual conference here last month.
The Washington-based ELC, a conservative-leaning group for state education chiefs and other policy leaders that was founded in 1995, spent much of 2004 battling complaints over its management and lack of success in raising money. Last fall, it merged with another nonprofit organization, a handover made official here at the ELC’s conference Dec. 3-4. (“Major Changes Afoot for Leaders Council,” Sept. 29, 2004.)
The turmoil resulted in a leadership change at the ELC. Lisa Graham Keegan, the former chief executive officer, used the meeting to publicly hand the reins to Theodor Rebarber, a former charter school founder and the executive director of AccountabilityWorks, the Washington-based organization that merged with the ELC.
The Education Leaders Council will “continue to advocate for bold reforms,” Mr. Rebarber told the audience of about 300 attendees. But he added that the group also will “offer new support to those in the trenches.”
The group he now leads is redefining its place in Washington policy circles. At first an organization that pushed for “anti-establishment” reforms such as school choice and the accountability measures in the No Child Left Behind Act, the ELC now finds itself looking for new approaches to promote since some of its old positions have become more mainstream.
“There’s no litmus test to what ELC is and what we’re all about,” said Jim Horne, the president of the ELC’s board and a former Florida commissioner of education.
The conference here was an important fund-raiser for the group. But the list of big-name guests was a little shorter this time—no governors, education secretaries, or members of Congress attended, as they had in past years.
Margaret Spellings, the nominee to be the U.S. Secretary of Education, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner were scheduled to speak, but were replaced with Florida Commissioner of Education John Winn and the state’s K-12 schools chancellor, Jim Warford.
Raymond J. Simon, the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told an audience what President Bush might pursue for K-12 education in the next four years.
The two most important areas of work for the Education Department may involve reviewing state tests and standards and making sure states are equipped to assist schools needing academic help under the federal law, he said.
Mr. Rebarber said the council would continue to help states implement the No Child Left Behind Act, improve teacher quality, integrate scientifically based research into schools, and provide new educational options for struggling students.
Much of the ELC’s money has come from Congress, for a program called Following the Leaders. The program’s main goal is to provide technology-based tools to help schools improve test scores and meet the requirements of the federal law.
“ELC has gone from just thinking about what to do, to doing,” Ms. Keegan said.
Despite the changes, the group adhered to one tradition by honoring two education reformers with black-leather-jacket “Rebel With a Cause” awards.
They were Anthony Colon, the vice president of the National Council of La Raza’s Institute for Latino Educational Advancement and Development and an advocate of school choice, and Kathleen Madigan, the president of the American Board for Certification of Teaching Excellence, who pushes for alternative-certification methods for teachers.
A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Education Leaders Council Aims for New Start