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About ECC: Education facts and networking for parents, policymakers, & taxpayers

The Education Consumers ClearingHouse is a subscriber supported, online forum that serves as a kind of Consumers Union for the consumers of public education. It affords subscribers an opportunity to consider education issues from a consumer's point of view. Subscribers participate by asking questions, posting information and opinion, searching the archives, or participating in the various discussions.

The ClearingHouse is founded on the belief that education's consumers need access to information and opinion that is independent of the education community and sympathetic to the consumer's concerns and priorities. Subscribers are limited to parents, concerned citizens, employers, policy makers, taxpayers, and others who invest in and rely on the public schools. Individuals who are both consumers and professional educators (by training or occupation) are welcome but are asked to wear their consumer's hat while participating in the ClearingHouse.

Education's consumers range from liberal to conservative on political issues but they consistently differ from education's providers on at least two points: 1) They seek to obtain that which is best for their children, not impose their beliefs on everyone else's children; 2) They prefer that which is proven to that which is merely promising. In education as in medicine, consumers are interested, first and foremost, in safety and effectiveness.

The public schools are a regulated monopoly. They not only control the schools, they shape the public discourse on most education issues. As anyone who has publicly debated a local education issue can report, school-friendly voices are recognized and legitimated. Voices that question or disagree are marginalized. It is a frustrating experience.

Dissatisfied members of the lay public are at an obvious disadvantage. The schools hold themselves out to be knowledgeable, impartial, and selfless. Their communications with the public are authoritative and infused with impenetrable jargon. Not only are citizens unable to counter official pronouncements, they are frequently at a loss to understand them. In short, discussions between the public schools and the consuming public are typically lopsided. When challenged, schools tend to defend rather than negotiate; and when they negotiate, parents and the public clearly are junior partners, not valued customers.

Consumers lack both the ability to act as customers and the leverage conferred by leadership, organization, and resources. Unlike local school systems, they are unable to speak in a unified voice. Although they have the numbers and potentially overwhelming clout, they are virtually powerless.

ClearingHouse's Role
The ClearingHouse seeks to counter the imbalance between providers and consumers by helping consumers:

- Find answers by networking with fellow consumers and consumer-friendly experts,
- Stay informed about developments in school reform,
- Develop a consensus regarding educational issues, and
- Create and participate in local, state, and regional education consumer groups, and
- Identify consumer-friendly educational experts

Unlike organizations such as the PTA or local school board, the ClearingHouse provides an environment in which the consumer's interest always has the top priority.

As moderator and resident "resource person," I try to aid subscribers by reporting recent developments, interpreting educational jargon, responding to questions about educational issues, providing references, offering analysis and opinion, and otherwise facilitating the flow of information.

I am an Ed.D. graduate of the University of Florida, a licensed educational psychologist, and a licensed school psychologist. I have 30 years of experience as professor of teacher education and have published in the area of educational reform. My educational views are published and widely available for review.

Information and Discussion Topics
Typical ClearingHouse topics are related to subscriber concerns and questions. For example, a local curricular initiative may be given more balanced and consumer-friendly scrutiny than is typically the case. Parents or concerned members of a community who want to prepare themselves for discussion of an issue before their local school board are able to call on fellow ClearingHouse subscribers for reflection and advice. Often they will find someone who faced the same issue in their community. School board members who are not satisfied with the policy guidance they are receiving from local educators are able to access information and opinion from the consumer's point of view. Even those topics for which local school personnel traditionally have little enthusiasm--for example, the cost and effectiveness of existing programs--are sometimes addressed.

The ClearingHouse enables education's consumers to understand and express themselves on educational issues on a more even footing with the education community. In broader terms, the ClearingHouse is intended as a means of strengthening consumer visibility, credibility, and influence with policy setting bodies and the public. Click here for information about how you can start a local Education Consumers Association™.

Long-term Aims
In the longer term, my hope is that well-informed consumer activism at the local level will enhance the success of both grass root and top-down educational reform initiatives. As matters now stand, policy makers institute change only to have it bureaucratically subverted or politically undermined as political forces wax and wane. Numerous states and localities have enacted results-oriented reforms only to have them implemented in a way that defeats accountability. In many cases, otherwise effective reforms have been undone because the consuming public's role has been little more than that of a passive bystander. The public awareness necessary to sustain and expand reform has been lacking.

Perhaps the most unique and important aspect of the ClearingHouse is that it is not one more grant-supported educational "innovation." Rather, it is subscriber-supported listserve dedicated exclusively to consumers. As such, it is wholly independent of the usual educational and governmental influences. Its commitment to education's consumers is assured by market forces. If it fails to serve its subscribers, it will go out of business. The ClearingHouse supports itself through paid subscriptions--$2.95 per month. One month free trial subscriptions are available.

Potential Impact on Education
In the long term, the ClearingHouse has the potential to shape the quality of products and services in the education marketplace. At present, the market is inundated with offerings that satisfy the interests and priorities of the officials who control the billions that are spent annually on public education. Thus, an incidental but key objective of this venture is to expand the availability of consumer-friendly educational products and expertise.

I encourage you to subscribe to the ClearingHouse and I would appreciate your help in making it known to other education consumers. If you are a consumer who is also an educator, I ask only that you participate as a consumer. My objective is for the ClearingHouse to become a place for discussion among consumers, not a forum for debate between consumers and those who have a stake in defending the public schools.

Tips on Posting Messages
Make your subject line as informative as possible. The ClearingHouse distributes more information than most people have time to read. Many will only read the subject line. If it is confusing or non-descriptive, many otherwise interested individuals will not display or read it.

Edit your postings for clarity and brevity. Again, only the most dedicated readers will make the effort to decipher poorly edited or visually messy postings. Very long items are less likely to be opened because they take too much time to display and read. Postings comprised mainly of previously posted material are automatically rejected by the Lyris server.

If your message is of narrow interest or of interest only to individuals in a certain geographic location, indicate same in the subject line or post it to an Education Consumers Association for that area (if any).

Take care to avoid violating copyright restrictions. If you discover that you posted something that should not have been posted without permission, let us know and we can remove it from the archives.

If you have never participated in discussions over the Internet you will find that reasoned and temperate messages are well received. Strongly worded or sarcastic expressions, however, can unintentionally come across as blunt and confrontational. The ClearingHouse is a medium for adults. Courtesy and civility are customary.



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