By Jon Cassidy | Ohio Watchdog
COLUMBUS — In his year as lead education advisor to Gov. John Kasich, Bob Sommers led several major changes to the Ohio public school system. The state quadrupled the number of private school vouchers and lifted a cap on charter schools. Sommers stepped down in February and took a job as CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, which runs tuition-free online charter schools.
Now that he’s in the private sector, we wondered what he’d have to say about the idea of outsourcing support services for schools. Andrew Benson, an education policy expert, recently proposed the idea. Benson was one of the contributors to an education policy report the governor’s office published this summer called Beyond Boundaries. That report calls for school districts and other government agencies to save money by sharing service, but doesn’t mention the much more controversial idea of outsourcing.
Q: Andrew Benson of Ohio Education Matters recently called for Ohio school districts to start outsourcing some non-instructional services. What’s your take?
A: He is right on target with this one. Education is entering a free-enterprise, competitive phase (that will really move in the next two-five years) that is unprecedented in performance and efficiency demands. In the major cities, over a quarter of all state-funded students are attending charter or voucher schools already. Cleveland is at 32 percent, Detroit is at 70 percent. This doesn’t include the students who have entered the private, parochial, and home school environments. This choice pressure will increase. Add in the demand for better education at a better price and you can see why education is in for real transformation. Parent expectations and public budget pressures will simply catalyze the inevitable change.
The private free-enterprise sector fully understands the value of outsourcing everything that isn’t the core mission. Let’s use a simple example – word processing software. No one can compete with the Microsoft/Google world in creating, improving, and distributing word processing software. We pay a tiny fraction of the cost of development, research, and distribution for our share of the word processor we use.
Q: How would that apply in education?
A: Take curriculum development. There are millions spent each year by major curriculum developers and thanks to digital access, the per-student cost for top notch, constantly improving curriculum is less than the cost of a textbook. Assessments are now more sophisticated and graded automatically. No teacher or district can compete with these examples on cost of production or quality. Even complex written essay assessments are now gradable digitally with better reliability and validity than human interaction.
Think of the collective cost of curriculum directors and departments across America. What if we spent that money on better learning environments, higher wages for fewer teachers, and extra services for the hardest to serve students? Hope you get the idea. My goal at Carpe Diem Learning Systems is to design a “central office” that can effectively support 1,000 schools with a staff of less than 100. Outsourcing will be critical to our efforts.
Q: How feasible will it be, politically or legally?
A: Politically, it is a tough sell for now, but in five more years, it will be a hard sell why a school district hasn’t done more.
Q: I’m sure it’s financially sound, but is it a good idea overall? The last idea your average superintendent would entertain?
A: Great idea. Moreover, it’s essential for quality and cost improvements. Of course, it isn’t even on the average educator’s mind. They are still in a monopoly-driven thought process. The aggressive operators and districts will soon capitalize on this lack of foresight of others.
Very few educators are even beginning to consider this. All the major educational organizations, institutions, and development environments haven’t even begun to realize the tsunami of change coming their way in the next few years.
Q: Do you have any idea if that’s anything the governor will be pushing for? My cursory read of the Beyond Boundaries report is that it stays clear of the topic.
A: Beyond Boundaries is a typical politically developed document — long on words, accolades, and one-off examples and short on real substance.
Don’t ever look to the state capital for real change. The politics and lobbyists are too strong to allow real change to happen. Education change is and will increasingly be driven by parents and innovators. The more choice is introduced to the system, the quicker the monopoly power embedded in Columbus will become irrelevant. They already are in the private school sector.
John Kasich is an incredible leader and a very strong advocate for change for the betterment of education for children and high quality teachers. But even he can’t move very fast at the state level. I decided to rejoin the ranks of school reform at the front lines so I could be a part of the transformation occurring.
Contact Jon Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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