Most reports about the state of modern education focus on many parents' dissatisfaction with the public school system. But it seems that an increasing number of teachers also are growing frustrated with what they see as an unwieldy education bureaucracy.
"The limitations of the current system have caused many fine educators to leave teaching altogether," says Senn Brown, a member of the board of the Association of Educators in Private Practice (AEPP).
AEPP, a group that seeks to put teachers on a par with other professionals such as lawyers or doctors, notes that other professionals have more choices for how they practice their professions. Established in 1990, AEPP seeks to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for educators- such as online tutoring, charter school management, textbook publishing, and education-related consulting- by providing resources and support to its nearly 1,000 members and expanding community of education entrepreneurs.
According to Executive Director Chris Yelich, "The traditional path for professional growth in education was to go into administration, but that wasn't the choice that some educators wanted to make. AEPP wanted to provide a network for these entrepreneurs and to give them support to succeed."
Only a few years ago, most educators did not think of education as an "industry." Recently, however, the concept of "educator-as-entrepreneur" has begun to catch on. Yelich attributes this development to heightened interest in greater parental choices in education, as well as to rising investor interest in education-related businesses. Charter schools also have expanded entrepreneurial opportunities for educators by improving the climate for outsourcing school services, including instruction.
According to Yelich, the role of AEPP is to help bridge "the language gap" between educators and the business world. "Many of our entrepreneurial educators don't know the lingo of the companies," she says. "They might have a great idea, but they don't necessarily know how to make a business plan. We help them make connections with members of the business community and help turn their idea into reality."
In July, the AEPP held its annual "EdVentures" conference in Detroit with more than 400 people in attendance. Three days of informational seminars and presentations provided interested educators with contacts, resources, and support to become active participants in the developing education economy.
Lynne Master, founder and president of the Learning Disabilities Clinic, Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, says AEPP-sponsored events like EdVentures provide networking opportunities in a cooperative environment. An AEPP member since 1993, Master says her first EdVentures conference "was like an epiphany for me as a private business owner. I thought I was alone as an education provider and had no idea of the existence of others who had left the classroom but remained in the education world."
Master finds AEPP to be an invaluable source for teachers who want to become successful educator/business people. "Training for an education business certainly was never offered in my college of education."
Master's Learning Disabilities Clinic provides services to both children and adults with learning and attention disorders. "We work in close collaboration with existing schools and systems to assist special education students," she says. "In addition, we help adults with disabilities prepare for the job market by teaching them basic skills necessary to become licensed or complete a college degree."
Master points out that AEPP is committed to supplementing, not replacing, the existing education system. "We aren't trying to replace the school system," she says. "Our role is to meet a need that currently is not being met or to supplement already successful programs."
The success of AEPP over the past decade suggests that teachers increasingly want career opportunities beyond the traditional school setting. This fall, AEPP and the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University will host "Teachers Want Choices Too," an initiative to promote "new professional avenues of empowerment, autonomy, ownership and accountability for enterprising educators."
Fifty educators and policy leaders will gather in Racine, Wisconsin, to craft a "Teachers Want Choices Too" policy statement and to develop a strategic plan for pursuing their agenda.
"It's my hope that the original vision that led to the creation of the AEPP will play out in ways that enhance teaching and the teaching profession," says Brown. "Private practice can be an important option for attracting and retaining teachers who seek autonomy, who thrive on accountability and can accept the risks involved.
"More importantly, these changes can expand instructional offerings and enhance learning opportunities for students," he adds.
Yelich believes America is on the verge of a "sea change" in how education is delivered. "In the last 10 years, we have seen a new way of thinking emerge about educating children," she says. "Education choices are no longer limited to what is happening within the school building; entrepreneurs have created many avenues for choices. We want to continue to see education options improve for students and professional options increase for teachers."
For more information about AEPP or "Teachers Want Choices Too," visit www.aepp.org.