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   Home | Issues | Join | ECAs | About ECC | Education Consumers Foundation

Form an Education Consumer Association

  1. It only takes a few people to get started. Form a committee with a friend or two or however many are interested. Get something written down about your purpose. Writing a purpose statement is a good way to bring focus to your efforts. Check the ECC website for a model statement. If you know people who have expressed an interest in education issues, recruit them.

    Remember, the aim is to find a consensus among a broad range of consumers; so even though you start with individuals who have a specific beef about local schooling, try to build a broader focus. Only 20% of consumers currently have kids in school but many others were active users at one time. Nothing is wrong about having specific complaints but a focus on achievement, accountability, and cost-effectiveness is desirable because these are issues on which consumers and educators are likely to have clear and different interests.

  2. Once you have some of your goals and local issues on paper, identify and recruit others to your group. You can use the successes of other ECAs and your linkage with the ClearingHouse as a talking point. Encourage people who have misgivings to visit the ClearingHouse archives. Seeing that there is a link to a dynamic, existing body of information and opinion is impressive.

    Contacting people who have written letters to the local newspaper in recent months is a good way to add to a nucleus of support. You may be able to locate them through the phone book, a local business directory, or an internet search. The local paper may be able to give you an address or phone number. Explain how the ECA is an alternative to the PTA and other school-dominated groups. Your linkage to the ClearingHouse may pique their interest and lend credibility to your effort. Anyone interested in joining will want to be sure that you are not merely another special interest group masquerading as a consumer representative.

    Write a letter to the editor of your local paper to attract others who may be interested. See below for a sample.

    Be certain that everyone understands the ECA is for the advancement of consumer interests and the consumer's point of view. Consumers who are educators by occupation or training can join but they must understand that they are welcome, provided that they support consumer views and interests. Make it clear that the ECA is not just another forum for educators to debate with laymen who are not impressed with the quality of local schools.

  3. Have a meeting and form a communications loop. An e-mail loop is the quickest and easiest. A web site is an excellent idea. Convenience and low cost are important. Parents and other consumers don't have the kind of time and money to expend on school issues that schools have.

  4. When you have 10 to 20 members, bring your group to the attention of your local media: newspapers, radio and television. Be sure to frame yourself as a non-partisan, non-sectarian, grassroots organization that takes a consumer's interest in education. Again, your linkage to the ClearingHouse will be helpful. Be prepared for skeptical reactions. Everyone, especially the schools and the media, will be looking for some hidden agenda. Even the suggestion of such an agenda will greatly narrow your credibility and prospective membership. The object here is for your group to define itself for the public rather than have the schools or the local teacher organization do so.

  5. When local media run a story on education, use the opportunity to present a response. When schools report something about achievement levels, for example, send a letter to the editor. Try to avoid a steady stream of negatives or items on which there would be disagreement among consumers. Letters should be clear, reasonable, and well written, and they must come from a consumer’s point of view. They should both commend good points and criticize the opposite. Send copies of any letter to the editor to your local education writer or columnist as well. The idea is to establish your organization as a unique and broadly constituted group that is be trying to insure that local schools and school boards hear a responsible consumer's point of view.

  6. Other activities:
    • Present an annual award to the schools demonstrating the highest levels of academic gain in the last 3 years and the most recent year.
    • Present an annual award to the schools showing the greatest improvement in the last 3 years.
    • Develop a list of educational needs, concerns, and priorities as seen from a consumer perspective.
    • Review current and proposed initiatives undertaken by the school system with regard to their role in improving student achievement.
    • Prepare a list of result-oriented recommendations for school board consideration.
The following is a sample letter calling for the establishment of an ECA:

Dear Editor:

Are we getting the whole story about how much our kids are learning in school?

Not long ago, I read a letter from a angry parent posted on the internet. She said my kids (ages 10 and 12) are bright, they get "A"s and "B"s in most subjects but neither of them can spell, write a correct sentence, summarize readings accurately, or organize their thoughts on paper. My 7th grader had only two English assignments this semester and they were "collaborative." I sent my children to the public school trusting blindly that they would come out with the skills they need to become productive adults. I now think I made a big mistake.

I know other parents who have the same concerns. Their kids get good report cards but don't really seem to be learning. For example, one had a son who finished high school with a "B" average but did so badly on the ACT that he had to take several remedial courses in college.

Good grades reflect real learning only if a school's standards are high. Parents assume that they are but how do they know?

In truth, it's hard for a parent to know what kind of education their child is getting because most parents aren't experts and almost everything they know about their schools come from the schools themselves. Not surprisingly, almost all of it is favorable. Even the educational accountability reports published by the state are typically given a school-friendly spin. They are like financial reports in a world where no one outside the company can read a balance sheet.

Parents and communities need a way to look at their schools that is independent of the perspective presented by the schools themselves. Parents and taxpayers are education's consumers and the schools are its producers. Each have a unique set of interests.

Education Consumers Associations are a response to this need and one is now forming in our area. They are nonprofit grassroot organizations that unlike PTAs, school boards, accrediting agencies or other educational organizations are dedicated exclusively to the consumer's interest. For more information, call 555-5555 or visit on the World Wide Web.



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