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Opinion & Essays - Jan, 2000 Issue #65 


By Lon Woodbury, Certified Educational Planner

[This essay is a revision of an article that recently appeared in the Association of Educators in Private Practice (AEPP) newsletter.]

It may be the current changes in the American education system will rival the changes that occurred in the last half of the 19th century when tax-based “free” public education overwhelmed the wide and extensive network of private independent schools. A 1999 survey reported that as many as 25% of American school children are currently in some kind of non-traditional education arrangement: either home-schooling, charter schools, religious and secular private day schools, traditional private boarding schools, private pay emotional growth schools and programs, therapeutic schools and programs, public alternative schools, school choice, etc. This recent and rapid expansion of alternatives to the mass education model with which we are all familiar, reflects a powerful cultural movement among educators and parents to explore better options for educating our young. 

The field of mental health has shown a similar rapid expansion of new ways to help children with behavioral/emotional problems. In the past the choice was mostly limited to finding a local counselor, a local inpatient or outpatient treatment center or hospital, with a focus on determining a diagnosis and treatment. Now, parents have many choices at a local and national level, with options ranging from local support groups, wilderness programs, “therapy without walls,” residential and nonresidential behavior programs, ropes courses, and equine programs, to name a few. Thus we are also seeing a powerful movement to explore better options for treatment of our young. 

The rapid expansion of options facing parents wanting good schools and emotional growth or therapeutic programs for their children can be overwhelming and confusing. As a parent, how do you evaluate the quality of a school or program, or choose which school or program best fits your child’s needs? How do you know when your child’s needs are actually being met? 

As choices in both education and mental health have expanded, parents are increasingly receiving help with their decision-making from professionals called independent educational consultants. These professionals first appeared in significant numbers in the 1970s, when they established private practices to help parents sift through the variety of options in order to find the school best suited for their child’s individual needs. Originally educational consultants focused primarily on traditional academic secondary boarding schools and college placements. In 1976 these professionals formed an organization they named the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), reflecting their emphasis on their independence from schools and programs and stating their high ethical standards for IECA members. This organization has grown in scope and size so that currently, in addition to finding placements in traditional academic settings, members now also help place children in a variety of other educational environments, including behavioral/emotional growth schools and programs, therapeutic schools, tutoring, evaluation, and learning centers. This organization has even helped to start a certification system in which independent educators can earn a Certified Educational Planner (CEP) designation, comparable in concept to the “CPA” in finance, or the long-recognized “attorney- at-law.” 

Both the IECA organization and the CEP certification are in response to the parents’ need for help from professionals who “know the ropes” in that they are familiar with the various school and program options, yet remain independent of them, alleviating any potential conflict of interest. Presently, most parents who use these educational consultants are financially successful, able to afford the tuitions of private schools and programs. 

However, this is changing. The phenomenal increase in charter schools, home-schooling and private vouchers are creating the same confusing plethora of options for middle income and low-income parents that high-income parents have always had. And, just as in the past, when IECA members stepped forward to help families with private and costly schooling, new people are now stepping forward in a variety of ways to provide for all parents, regardless of their level of income. In the introduction to The Independent Educational Consultants Association Directory 1999-2000, this task is defined as part of the consultant’s role to “assist students and families with educational decision making.”

The fact that low-income parents now also need these services was indicated in a report I read recently about private vouchers, charter schools, private schools, home-schooling and public schools in Washington D.C. One woman, calling herself an “education advocate,” saw her role as one of helping those Washington D.C. parents decide which, among the expanding options, was the right school for their children. According to the definition with which I have always been familiar, she is acting as an independent educational consultant, indicating that the same needs which fostered the development of IECA in the first place, have now expanded to low-income neighborhoods. 

Since there is every indication that education choices for all families will only increase, I sense we will also see a similar expansion in the kinds of educational consultants available to all parents who wish to make the best education decisions for their children. This will probably be similar to the growth in already well established professions such as medical doctors, attorneys and accountants during the 20th century. Regardless of the details, you can be assured that in the next few years the landscape for professionals working directly for parents as independent educational consultants will be radically different. Perhaps the existing organizations, for example, the IECA, CEP, and AEPP, will choose to include in their existing framework, those people working in newly developing educational arenas, offering them their experience, and concepts of ethical practice. If this occurred, it would require these organizations to go through the difficult process of rethinking their mission and fee structures, among other things. Alternatively, people working for a new clientele of parents may choose to form their own organization, in response to differing needs. In either case, over the next fifteen years, the increasing numbers and changing role of educational consultants will be at least as interesting and exciting as the changes I’ve seen over the past 15 years that I’ve been involved in private education. 

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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