I’d been thinking that I might want to write a short column for MDR marking the start of the 2018-19 school year. I never expected that instead I would be writing to mourn the death of a dear friend – and industry icon – Charles Blaschke. On August 3, Charles had a terrible fall at his summer home in Machipongo on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The doctors tried, but it was not to be and with his wife Kathy (Hurley) and sister Ellie by his side, he passed away on Sunday, August 5.
For more than 50 years Charles was the hands-down expert on all things Title I. No surprise there as Charles was in on the ground floor. After finishing his Master’s Degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, he came to Washington to work in the Johnson administration, advising on education policy. He was assigned to work with the Office of Economic Opportunity, helping to translate the principles that were driving President Johnson’s War on Poverty programs into the education sphere. In that role Charles helped draft the Title I legislation that was to become the major element of the groundbreaking Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
In 1967 Charles founded Education Turnkey Systems, a consulting and market research firm that over the years served the needs of both state education agencies, school districts, and state policy makers, as well as private sector organizations offering products and services to the school market. Charles analyzed and wrote about policy issues, interpreted legislative and regulatory changes and tracked funding information. He was quick to identify emerging trends and to draw out their market implications.
When I entered the industry in the early 1980s, Charles was welcoming and helpful. I came to rely on his expertise. If I ended up knowing anything about education policy and funding, it was Charles who set me firmly on the right path. I knew that I could always call to check my interpretation of a new regulation, discuss the implications or just chat about what was going on in Washington. Sometimes, as Charles launched into an answer to what had seemed a simple question, I would think “Oh this is going to be more than I need to know.” But it never was. I always learned something, got a new perspective on what schools or states were doing, and usually heard an anecdote from Charles’ early days in Washington, which were always special.
I often tell people that Charles kept me from starving. By the late 1980s I was running my own one-person consulting operation, but I was terrible at marketing myself. It was Charles who kept me going, coming up with independent projects and including me in ongoing work with his existing clients. He was a great colleague and a good friend. In the early 1990s, Charles and I did half-day workshops at ISTE and FETC for industry executives. I presented my latest market research on brand share of classroom technology use and Charles held forth on state and federal policy and funding – Title I, special education, bilingual, vocational ed…Charles covered it all.
As technology entered the picture, Charles’ unique skill set was especially valuable as schools questioned whether they could and publishers debated whether they should get involved. Charles combed the regs to find instances where technology clearly fell within the intent of the legislation and shared that information widely with his district and state education contacts. He shared the same information with hardware and software companies, helping them find the best was to further share that information with their customers. He talked endlessly with district leaders about their needs and challenged instructional materials publishers to find ways to address those needs. He translated policy into allowable actions and identified funding sources that could be used to support technology adoption. He helped the educational technology industry grow by focusing on ways to expand educational opportunity for teachers and students nationwide. That’s quite a remarkable legacy.
I grieve for the loss his family has experienced and I mourn the loss of a good friend. Charles will be deeply missed.