What is an Education Consumer Association
Education Consumers Associations (ECAs) are local or state level citizen groups that are dedicated to empowering parents, school board members, employers, and others who have a consumer's stake in public schooling. Just as teacher organizations and other educator groups represent their unique perspectives, ECAs represent the consumer's perspective. They are grassroot consumer unions for public school customers.
Are they like PTAs?
Like PTAs, ECAs are concerned with educational quality. Unlike PTAs, they are founded on the understanding that even in public education, the aims and priorities of education's consumers take precedence over those of education's providers.
In the marketplace, supply is properly governed by consumer demand. Consumers are the parties who make decisions about what they want and providers are the parties who supply it. Taxpayers hire school personnel to serve parents and children; thus in the partnership between parents, teachers, and taxpayers, parents and taxpayers are the senior partners. Membership in ECAs is limited to public education's consumers. Individuals who are both educators (by training or occupation) and consumers are welcome but they must wear their consumer's cap.
What do ECAs do?
ECAs may hold meetings, elect officers, and carry out various activities in support of their interests. Their most important activity, however, is gathering and disseminating accurate information about local public schools. Schools want the public to form a favorable impression of school quality. Consumers, by contrast, seek to form an accurate impression. Clearly they have differing interests and obviously parents and other consumers need sources that can furnish such information-sources sympathetic to their concerns as consumers.
ECAs enable consumers to pool their knowledge. With an ECA, parents shopping for a new home have a way of contacting other parents. Employers seeking to locate a business have a way of contacting other employers. Consumer impressions are not a perfect guide to quality but they add a critical balance to the information that comes from schools themselves.
In addition to permitting consumers to pool their knowledge, ECAs help parents and board members find and understand technical information about school quality. A considerable amount of factual information is available but it must be located and interpreted. Often there is a range of facts to consider, thus the facts rarely speak for themselves.
Because consumer-friendly help may be needed to cut through the jargon and spin, ECAs have access to the Education Consumers ClearingHouse™ an online source for grassroot networking and information. The ClearingHouse is funded by paid subscriptions and dedicated to empowering education's consumers. It is wholly independent of any government or educational group. In addition to providing access to fellow consumers, the ClearingHouse provides links to the Education Consumers Consultants Network™ a group of consumer-friendly scholars and credentialed experts.
What are the advantages of an ECA?
Local school systems are a publicly funded monopoly. Customer satisfaction is not a requirement for survival. Schools want the best for children but they want it on their own terms-with minimal accountability and ever increasing funding. Of course with little accountability and assured funding, schools have little economic incentive to do more than maintain positive appearance. ECAs cannot alter these fundamental conditions but they do provide a way for parents and interested citizens to more accurately assess their local schools and to act on the basis of that information.
Education Consumers Foundation
1655 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone (703) 248-2611
Fax (703) 525-8841
Next: Forming an Education Consumer Association