It may be a tough time to start a new business, but if you find the right niche, this can be the perfect time.
One direction you might look is toward the nation’s schools ... but not to be a teacher: The money is in consulting.
As Diane Ravitch writes in "No Consultant Left Behind," since the introduction of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, there has been a proliferation of businesses that offer tutoring and consulting services to schools, school districts and states.
"Overnight there were hundreds of tutoring firms created to offer supplementary services," she writes.
Ravitch is a research professor of education at New York University and a historian of education. She worked in the federal Department of Education under George H.W. Bush and later was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program.
She is the author of "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn," "Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform," and "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education."
Ravitch writes that whenever federal dollars are made available to help ailing schools, a new bunch of private-sector consultants -- most of them unqualified to provide the needed services -- pops up to get a piece of the pie.
"Some of these
For instance, according to the Denver Post, 35 percent of the federal dollars allocated by Congress to help struggling schools in Colorado went to consultants -- that’s $9.4 million of the $26.6 million Congress sent to the Rocky Mountain State.
In total, 5,000 of the nation’s "worst" schools are getting $5 billion in federal money over three years to help them do a better job in educating their students.
If that percentage holds true across the board, that’s about $1.75 billion going to consultants rather than to the schools themselves.
However, wrote the Post’s Jennifer Brown, "No one nationally is tracking how the money is spent and no one can say whether the influx of cash will end up helping kids."
Rick Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, told the Post the federal School Improvement Grant program "is likely to go down in the annals as one more pretty expensive, failed initiative."
Well, it’s only a failure if you consider the impact on students. It’s definitely not a failure if you are one of those consultants laughing all the way to the bank.
In "Making Failure Pay: For-Profit Tutoring, High-Stakes Testing, and Public Schools," Jill P. Koyama documented three years of fieldwork in the schools of New York City, during which she discovered the destruction of the walls between government, schools and commerce only benefits the private organizations that sprung up like weeds following the introduction of No Child Left Behind.
Koyama took a hard look at supplemental educational services, a component of NCLB that provides funding to school districts to help children, especially those in high-poverty schools, get a high-quality education. Surprisingly, SES providers do not have to use curricula based on research and evaluation, nor do they have to demonstrate improved student performance.
Rather than solving the problems they are being paid for, the providers are doing nothing more than walking away with wads of cash.
Meanwhile, our failing schools continue to fail and their students are being left behind.
Ravitch wrote: "When people say ‘we spend enough on education,’ ‘we spend too much on education,’ shouldn’t we be cutting out the consultants? Shouldn’t we cut the spending on the corporations that exist to tell principals and teachers how to do their jobs? If we hired good people from the get-go, why do they need to bring in consultants anyway?"
Ravitch, as you might guess, has some solutions to offer.
First, create a database of all the consultants "who are fattening at the trough of public education," as well as a way of evaluating their track record; second, determine how much education spending is being diverted to these corporations; third, if budget cuts happen, consultants should be the first to go -- "not the arts, not kindergarten, not guidance counselors, not school nurses, not librarians, and certainly not teachers."
Makes sense to us.