School Reform @ the Speed of Thought
In a move that melded together two fast-growing developments--market-based school reform and the Internet--The Heartland Institute in February took an important step towards expanding and accelerating its outreach and marketing efforts by initiating the creation of a school reform portal on the World Wide Web.
Called SchoolReformers.com, the portal's purpose is threefold:
- to attract new people to the school choice movement;
- to mobilize people who otherwise might be passive towards school choice; and
- to help make school choice activists more effective.
The home page of SchoolReformers.com will be designed to attract parents by offering them helpful information, such as brief essays on assisting children with homework, choosing a college, where to find a tutor, how to talk to children about drugs, what to do when your child gets a bad teacher, how to handle bullying, and so on. A prominent button on the home page will say “I want to help improve my school.” Clicking on that button will take the visitor to a “command center” for school reform activists.
The command center of SchoolReformers.com will be loaded with networking resources: directories of allies, calendars, job listings, and bulletin boards; grassroots organizing tools such as advice on how to host a meeting and how to raise money; the latest news about reform efforts taking place around the country; and links to research and data from the nation’s leading think tanks and mainstream media.
While the site will have plenty of information about school choice to keep people informed, the goal is to fill a significant gap in the matrix of efforts that make up the school choice movement. This gap is illustrated in the accompanying table, which identifies 12 components of the national school choice movement and over 50 organizations working for education freedom. The number would be much higher if all the Grassroots Choice Groups in each state were listed.
The Heartland Institute plays a key role in this movement by reaching out to potential allies and members and effectively marketing the ideas of parental choice and privatization to elected officials and opinion leaders. The Institute's School Reform News reaches 45,000 people each month and covers the entire spectrum of market-based school reform efforts taking place across the nation. No other publication does this. SchoolReformers.com will augment this outreach and marketing effort.
Two outstanding organizations are partners in this project with The Heartland Institute, which will provide content for the site. Site design and maintenance will be accomplished by the Chicago-based Henry Hazlitt Foundation, which specializes in using the Internet to popularize pro-freedom ideas. The second partner is the St. Louis-based Educational Freedom Foundation, the tax-exempt foundation affiliated with Citizens for Educational Freedom (CEF), the country’s premier organizer of grassroots chapters devoted to school choice. EFF's national network of activists and volunteers will welcome newcomers to the movement and “show them the ropes” of effective grassroots advocacy.
The future of school reform may depend on who wins the battle of ideas on the Internet. This is a playing field where the huge size and resources of teacher unions are of little help to them. The Internet lowers the cost of getting information out to millions of parents, teachers, taxpayers, and other potential school reform advocates. It makes the job of the grassroots activist much easier by allowing him or her to send brief messages--issue alerts, warnings, action bulletins, appeals for money, event notices, and more--to 100 or 1 million people at nearly the same cost . . . and that cost is largely the cost of building and maintaining the database of contacts.
Forums for discussing issues and tactics are easily established and maintained, position papers and case studies can be posted and shared, as can directories of allies (and opponents), phone numbers of elected officials, tips on how to organize a club or host a meeting . . . virtually any piece of information that might be useful to a school reformer can be made more readily available, thanks to the Internet. The Internet changes the rules of engagement, making it possible for the market-based school reform movement to become much bigger and more effective.
SchoolReformers.com is expected to be up and fully operational by the end of April.
Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute.