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Out of the Box

A New Education Market is On Its Way

Apr 19, 2017

By Bob Stimolo

Not too many days passed between the time new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was confirmed and U.S. education policy began making a sharp turn to the right.  By early March the Senate voted to scrap the Obama administration’s regulations on school accountability.  This could have huge implications for the state of the education market and school marketers in particular.

No Child Left Behind (the former name for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has been the driving force defining federal government funding of education for the last 16 years.  Started under the George W. Bush administration it attempted to correlate federal funding with measurable progress in reading and math scores across America.

As it evolved through two terms under Bush and two more under Obama its goals and objectives changed.  First it attempted to define assessments, and then began attempting to correlate assessments to funding, and finally it focused on investments in technology to build assessment databases.  Ironically, in the last days of the Obama administration, then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama issued a joint statement apologizing that they may have put too much emphasis on assessments and not enough on learning.

Things are different under President Donald Trump.  His policy regarding education may be summed up as “let each state decide” and he has the support of the Republican controlled Congress.  In early March and during a vote that fell along party lines, the Senate narrowly approved a measure to scrap Obama-era regulations which required that states must uphold a federal law meant to hold schools accountable for student performance.

His Secretary of Education wasted no time implementing President Trump’s education policy.  Consider this relatively new statement on the Department of Education website:

“Please note that in the U.S., the federal role in education is limited.  Because of the Tenth Amendment, most education policy is decided at the state and local levels.  So, if you have a question about a policy or issue, you may want to check with the relevant organization in your state or school district.”

This statement is accompanied by a link that leads to a list of state education agencies along with their contact information.  In a recent speech to the Council of the Great City Schools, Secretary DeVos said:

“Too often, the Department of Education has gone outside of its established authority and created roadblocks - wittingly or unwittingly - for parents and educators alike. This isn't right, nor is it acceptable. Under this Administration, we will break this habit.

No teacher in any classroom should feel like the Department of Education is holding them back from success with their kids.  No parent should feel like the Department of Education thinks it knows better than they what is best for their child.  And no district should feel like the Department of Education is hampering their ability to improve the learning environment of students.

When Washington gets out of your way, you should be able to unleash new and creative thinking to set children up for success.  One of the most important things we can do is highlight and celebrate out-of-the-box approaches.”

Then Ms. DeVos announced the release of an updated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidated state plan template.  The template outlines how states should identify struggling schools, lays out a timeline for state intervention at those schools, and explains what information must be included on annual school report cards sent to parents and the public.  In her announcement the Secretary said:

“My philosophy is simple:  I trust parents, I trust teachers, and I trust local school leaders to do what's right for the children they serve.  ESSA was passed with broad bipartisan support to move power away from Washington, D.C., and into the hands of those who are closest to serving our nation's students.”

This could be good news for what we used to know as the supplemental materials market.  Prior to the education market crash that began in 2011-12, this was a thriving market made up of entrepreneurs and companies devoted to creating unique teaching materials designed to help educators and students meet various learning challenges.

Once there were strong education markets for art, physical education, foreign languages, music education and more.  These markets were forced into the backseat as school administrators responded to the pressures of proving their proficiency in reading and math.  We may find that, at least in some communities, a more rounded approach to education will be preferred allowing these once popular segments of the industry to rebound.

One thing is clear.  As this issue goes to press, federal education policy is changing.  In fact, it has already changed dramatically from the policies we have seen over the last 16 years.  I am optimistic that it will lead to a stronger and more diverse education market.  I hope by the time you read this we will be well on our way.

As appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of EDmarket “Essentials”.