Column: There is money to be made in education | NevadaAppeal.com

Column: There is money to be made in education

by Bill Hanlon

If you have watched educational funding in the last few years in Nevada, then you will understand why so many people are going into education. Not education in the sense of becoming an educator, but going into educational enterprises.

The K-12 education budget in the United States approximates $350 billion. That has not gone unnoticed by entrepreneurs being attracted to big dollars. Traditionally, a number of businesses operated and profited from education, they tended to be consultants, textbook companies, test makers, school supplies, or cafeteria-related.

The new companies are moving into instruction, tutoring and running “at risk” schools, and some are gearing up to run entire school systems.

If you don’t think there is money to be made in public education, you don’t have to look beyond Nevada’s borders to find it. The private company hired to help write Nevada’s new academic standards signed an initial contract for $70,000. To date the cost of those standards is somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 and climbing. More recently, the superintendent search in Clark County has cost in the vicinity of $100,000 most going to a search firm out of Illinois.

But that kind of money is peanuts with respect to what’s to come. As companies gear up and lure venture capitalists, school systems could be taken over. There is an awful lot of money to be made.

I don’t see this as all bad, I sure see it as different. These companies, like most businesses, are formed to make a profit. They look at their bottom line to determine if they are successful. I tend to think many of these companies will do for education what HMO’s have done for medicine. That is, we will see reduced services for their clients – our kids.

But the simple fact is, I am attracted to these businesses myself. As a 25-year teacher and public school administrator, I can’t get rich. But going to work for one of these companies will result in a pay boost. I have also made some extra money selling my math book and video tapes to parents and school districts around the country on a part-time basis. There’s plenty of potential there. Especially when you have so many states implementing high stakes tests in order for students to graduate. Parents are willing to pay for those materials to help their own kids succeed.

With my background in education, I can do what a number of other teachers have done. Leave the public school system and start their own educational enterprise or go to work for the companies sprouting up nationwide.

These companies offer what public schools stupidly refuse to recognize, the need for consistency. Whether you go into a McDonald’s or Bank of America, what they promise their customers is a consistency that the public can rely on. Each little McDonald’s is not run according to the needs of the community where it’s located. It’s run by rules established by someone many, many miles away. While I’m sure the franchise owner or manager has some leeway in running their store, it’s not discernible to the public.

That’s just not true in public schools. What’s going on in one fourth-grade class in a building is not necessarily the same thing happening across the hall, never mind across town. Depending upon teacher and school philosophy, a student earning a “B” in algebra at one school might be equivalent to either a “C” or “A” at another school. That lack of consistency, the inability of parents to know what to expect in content, pedagogy and grades of their children, has many questioning the ability of public schools to educate their children.

If public schools are going to successfully compete for the state’s educational dollars, then at every grade and every subject, parents and students need to know what to expect. What’s taught, when it’s taught, how it’s taught have to be addressed. Grading has to become more consistent so there is at least an effort to make a “B” a “B,” regardless of teacher or school attended.

While public school systems wrestle with that problem, I can assure you private enterprises will demand that consistency of their administrators and teachers from the onset. Realizing that, when you are on the road and need to stop for an item, do you have a tendency to stop where you know the prices and service, or do you just go anywhere. Your answer will suggest whether you believe public education should have that consistency and how parents might choose what school to send their own children.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is bahanlon@accessnv.com