Ethical Consulting in Education

There are hundreds of educational consultants who deliver workshops, training, and professional development for teachers, administrators, and other educators. Anyone who has worked both as a public educator and as a consultant has doubtless felt the tension between working in public service and working for yourself, even if both ultimately benefit students and their learning.

How can you work for yourself, seeking to maximize income and opportunity, while also serving the public good in an ethical way? I believe you can. Here’s how.

1. Give knowledge away.
Educational consultants are different from consultants in other industries, because in education, everyone works for the students. For this reason, it’s unethical to hoard knowledge, to keep good ideas a secret, and to benefit only your paying clients – because students are the real clients. Give away good ideas so they can spread. In the age of the internet, there are really no secrets anyway. You are not in the business of selling information; you’re in the business of helping other professionals change their practice. That’s why you can’t be replaced by a book or a photocopied packet of handouts. Talk, blog, tweet, and share – your work will only become more valuable as you get feedback and gain publicity.

2. Charge what the market will bear.
You may be one of 50 consultants offering professional development on differentiated instruction, and you may charge 10 times as much as others. If you do, and you’re in demand, there must be a reason people value your work so highly. If you choose to work less and spend more time developing your ideas, volunteering, or enjoying your family, it’s OK to make up the difference by charging more per hour or per day. In public education, we’re taught to think that everyone is worth a fixed hourly rate as determined by the district salary schedule, but when you work independently on behalf of students, that’s not the case.

If you are having an impact on the work of other professionals, and they find it worthwhile to pay more than you think you should earn for a day’s work, don’t hesitate. Consultants don’t get paid for each day they work (after all, planning, research, and drumming up business are all work), so it’s essential to charge more per day of consulting work than you’d earn in a day’s work as a full-time employee. Having said that, there’s also nothing wrong with working pro bono for organizations that have found a place in your heart.

3. Don’t BS practitioners.
When you are talking about the work rather than doing the work, it’s easy and tempting to make things sound easier than they are, or to gloss over the concerns and struggles of the people you are trying to help. Instead, listen. Acknowledge that professional practice as an educator is always challenging, and don’t pretend everything is/was always easy for you when working as a school staff member.

What would you add to this list?

Courting Middle Class Parents

Today’s Seattle Times has an article by education report Emily Heffter on the increasing emphasis the Seattle School District is placing on middle-class families. Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, however, says the district is not actively trying to recruit parents away from private schools:

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said improving the quality and rigor at schools may draw more families back, but that’s not her focus.

“How about, let’s provide the best possible instruction for the kids who are here?” she said. “Part of the market-share issue is about parents not believing that the quality currently exists.” link

Several school board members, including both incumbents and newly elected members, do seem to be considering ways to reach out to middle-class families. In a district where around 25% of students go to private school, the financial and social-capital impact of a lack of confidence in public schools by middle- and upper-class parents is immense.

As Heffter points out, consistency and predictability are major concerns. While many parents want to send their children to public schools, they are wary of being assigned to a school they find less than optimal, or of being assigned to a decent school but a sub-par teacher. Many opt for private schools that offer a higher level of consistency and predictability, even if they lack certificated teachers or special programs such as sports.

The district’s forthcoming student assignment plan may address the predictability issues, because it will increase the chance that students will get into a short list of neighborhood schools. Middle- and upper-class parents are generally in favor of an assignment plan that guarantees admission to a neighborhood school, because this enables them to choose which neighborhood to live in based on the (perceived) quality of the local schools.

The current assignment plan provides transportation to schools in other neighborhoods in order to increase access for students from disadvantaged populations. Since residential segregation is a reality in nearly every major city, allowing students to leave their neighborhood to attend school is a common way districts address issues of uneven school quality and inequity.

However, busing students is unpopular because it’s expensive and time-consuming. Students may have to ride 40 minutes or an hour each way on school bus routes that, in the aggregate, cost millions of dollars a year to operate. Since busing is ultimately a workaround and is a tacit admission that some schools are sub-par, the district is directly addressing the underlying issue: the need for every school to be an excellent school.

New district leadership, both on the board and in the Superintendent’s office, will be facing these challenges head-on in the coming months and years.

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