Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S15)

S15 | | S15 EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013 Industry & Innovation > EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013 Industry & Innovation > n n À la Carte Purchasing Tactics Signal Districts’ Unique Needs T he way Jeff Elstad sees it, the days when school districts partnered with one vendor to buy a prepackaged, multigrade curriculum for seven to 10 years are long gone. Mr. Elstad runs the Byron public schools in Minnesota. Like many districts around the country, the Byron school system, when faced with budget shortages last spring, started doing things differently. The $60,000 that the upper-middle-class district had been spending each year on curriculum procurement, for instance, became an easy place to start making cuts. “We’ve moved away from the traditional textbook. They’re pretty much obsolete the moment they’re printed,” said Mr. Elstad, an educator with more than 20 years of experience. Last fall, he became Byron’s superintendent after working as a middle school principal. The 1,800-student district, which currently allows students to bring their own digital computing devices to school, plans to roll out a 1-to-1 iPad program for 7th to 12th graders next fall. Already, the middle and high school math curriculum is completely “flipped”—meaning students watch video-recorded lectures after school, in the afternoons, evenings, and on weekends, thereby saving class time to ask questions, work on problem sets, and collaborate in small groups. In moving away from the printed word and toward the adoption of a districtwide digital footprint, Byron is also changing the way it goes about procuring its curriculum. While it still partners with New York City-based Scholastic to supply the district’s K-4 literacy curriculum, it now relies much more heavily on open education resources, teacher-created materials, and learning management systems to supply the content for the upper grades. “We’ve decided to forgo the purchase of boxed curriculum sets from major vendors and instead looked for innovative ways to meet our needs,” said Mr. Elstad, who predicts such thinking will soon filter down to the lower grades. “We’ve done a complete 180.” While K-12 procurement of curricular materials has long favored big companies such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson because of economies of scale, some districts are now relying on smaller, startup companies to supplement segments of their curriculum needs. Many are pursuing an à la carte approach to procurement—still relying on traditional providers for large, multigrade programs, but also forging partnerships with smaller companies to supply innovative products and platforms. of creating more personalized learning environments for students. Tom Vander Ark, who formerly ran the education division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has since written the book Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World, says that while teachers have long supplemented boxed curricula with their own content, in the era of personal, digitized learning “it’s an idea now on steroids.” (The Gates Foundation provides support for coverage of the K-12 marketplace and new approaches to schooling in Education Week.) Mr. Vander Ark, who also writes a blog, Vander Ark on Innovation, hosted on, says the old pattern of curriculum adoption, in which a district might sign a seven-year contract for wraparound services with one vendor, began to change significantly in 2008, just as the economy tanked. “For many districts, it was one of the easiest spots to hit the pause button,” he said. “So they skipped a year, and when things didn’t really get better, in many places, folks just stopped that cycle altogether.” Along with the recession, Mr. Vander Ark describes a combination of other factors that have disrupted traditional, one-provider procurement practices: the rise in the use of mobile learning devices by students and educators, the availability of cheaper technologies, the development of tens of thousands of learning apps, and the widespread adoption of open education resources. Taking those influences together, he sees 2010 as an “inflection point”—a time when schools began a transition from the use of predominantly printed materials to the adoption of digital resources. And as the options increase, many districts, he predicts, will become even less reliant on traditional procurement strategies and choose instead to acquire a set of learning tools tailored to the needs of each student. Apps and Software When it comes to procurement, the field is rich not only with digital textbooks, but also with an increasing number of apps and software. “We’re seeing that those dollars aren’t shifting to digital textbooks, but to apps and software, creating a whole market and opportunity that didn’t exist before,” said Tyler Bosmeny, the co-founder and chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Clever. The company provides a service that links various pieces of educational software PAGE S16 > ‘A Huge Shift’ L.C. “Buster” Evans, the superintendent of the Forsyth County schools in Georgia, estimates the 39,000-student district was spending about $3 million a year on textbooks five years ago. This school year, that spending is around $500,000. “We’ve clearly made a huge shift. Both from printed materials, but also by doubling the amount of money we spend on digital products and content-delivery programs,” said Mr. Evans. Forsyth also runs a districtwide “bring your own device,” or byod, program. “All told, we’re spending less than $800,000,” on print and digital materials Mr. Evans said. In Forsyth County, the shift in resources also came with a shift in providers from the education industry. “While we’re still working with Pearson, there’s a completely new array of vendors we’re working with that in many cases didn’t even exist five years ago,” said Mr. Evans. In stark contrast to the big, grand curriculum presentations of years past, he routinely sits in on product demonstrations from startups with only a handful of employees. “There’s definitely an à la carte collection of content rather than an adoption by one provider,” he said. Instead of using three or four textbook companies as it did in the past, Forsyth now partners with more than two dozen content vendors. “No longer do you buy a single type of thing to meet the needs of all learners,” said Mr. Evans, who sees the shift in providers as a way Many districts are now relying on a more diverse mix of big companies and smaller startups for curricula BY AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS A Fast Track Traditional Ed.D. Why more administrators have chosen Seton Hall University’s Executive Ed.D. Program: • National/International Reputation • Dissertation Starts on Day One • Cohort Model of 30 Students • Intensive 2-year program: 10 Weekends, Two 4 week Summer sessions. • Personal Care and Support Now Accepting Applications for Cohort XVIII “The knowledge and skills acquired at Seton Hall and the network of cohort colleagues were essential elements to my career advancement.” Jason E. Glass, Ed.D. ’11 Iowa’s State Director (Commissioner) of Education For more information, call 1-800-313-9833, email, or go to 400 South Orange Ave. • South Orange, NJ 07079

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report

Education Week - April 24, 2013
Education Industry Players Exert Public- Policy Influence
Companies, Policymakers Look For Common Ground
Industry Shapes Goals And Tech Focus at N.Y.C. School
Beta Testing Ed. Products Can Get Tricky for Schools
Vetting Product Research to Determine What Works
Big-Name Companies Feature Larger-Impact Research Efforts
What to Ask About Research
Privatization Choices
À la Carte Purchasing Tactics Signal Districts’ Unique Needs
Big Companies Face K-12 Shift

Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report