Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S16)

S16 | EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013 Industry & Innovation > n Big Companies Face K-12 Shift BY AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS W hen it comes to curriculum procurement, Pearson, the giant education publishing company, can only hope the future resembles Huntsville, Ala. While in past years Pearson had supplied the elementary math curriculum for the Huntsville city school system, the two entered into a different partnership last summer, when Huntsville became one of the largest school districts in the country to embark on a districtwide digital conversion, according Pearson officials. Alongside the district’s 1-to-1 computing program, which supplied a laptop to each Huntsville 4th to 12th grader, Pearson replaced every piece of the existing K-12 curriculum with digital content—in a paper-todigital conversion that spanned 75 days. Besides the laptop initiative, students in grades K-2 use iPads, while 3rd graders use netbooks. “We’ve been working elbow to elbow with the district ever since,” said Scott Drossos, who heads Pearson’s work with districts looking to make similar 1-to-1 transitions. According to Mr. Drossos, Pearson—a London-based company whose U.S. headquarters is in New York City—works with 85 percent of the schools in the country “in one way or another.” In Huntsville, a middleclass district of about 24,000 students, Pearson is foremost among a portfolio of service providers helping to facilitate the district’s all-digital conversion. While the Pearson-Huntsville partnership is unique in that the company provides the entire curriculum for Huntsville’s core subject areas, the district also partners with smaller companies such as Edmodo and Moodle, two learning platforms, to receive additional services. “A certain benefit we bring is our capacity to help districts make that shift,” said Mr. Drossos. “We view these partnerships with incredible importance in helping districts make these digital conversions. As a company, if you don’t have that kind of capacity, it’s hard to play that role.” U.S. schools have long met the bulk of their curriculum needs through one of three big publishing companies: Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, or McGrawHill. But in recent years, some districts have also started partnering with startup companies in an à la carte sampling of providers, picking and choosing what they want from big companies, rather than buying one full-service package from one or just a few providers. Though Pearson’s relationship with Huntsville so far is the only one of both its size and its scope, some observers wonder whether such an experiment signals a shift in procurement strategies, with big companies solidifying their place at the top of the heap. ‘Dynamic Situation’ Karen Billings, the vice president of the education division for the Software & Information Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group, often sees large companies having a distinct advantage over their smaller counterparts, particularly when it comes to soup-to-nuts procurement. “Large companies can offer K-8 reading programs and larger, multigrade solutions, while small companies may have an innovative app to teach aspects of middle school math,” she said. Many startups specialize in digital resources, she said, but larger companies can often supply a product in whichever delivery platform a school wants. “Very few [startups] have built an entire curriculum yet,” Ms. Billings said. Still, Keith R. Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, notes that procurement practices have shifted. “It’s no longer a world where you buy your content for CONTINUED FROM PAGE S15 with a school’s central information system. “It’s really been a huge shift,” he said. “Because in an app world, you don’t have to buy everything from the same place.” Though the company is not yet a year old, Clever is already operating in more than 3,000 schools nationwide. While in past years, a district might have partnered with three or four companies to provide content, Clever now helps districts integrate a mosaic of specialized learning apps, with over 60 such apps operating on a single platform. “Instead of big districts choosing a conglomerate approach from one provider, they go to DreamBox because they want the best 2nd grade math software, or they get NoRedInk for their grammar program, or read 180 because they have students reading below grade level,” said Mr. Bosmeny, who sees districts selecting individual applications to fit their needs rather than a big bundle of preset services. “It’s a colossal shift in how education dollars are being spent,” he said. Common-Core Needs But Karen Billings, the vice president of the education division at the Washington-based Software & Information Industry Association, the principal trade group for the software and digital content industry, says she still sees many districts buying full curriculum packages from established providers, while often choosing startups to supply game-based or mobile apps. When it comes to deciding whether to partner with a 200-person company or a two-person startup, large legacy companies still offer more name recognition and support staff, Ms. Billings notes. “Schools know they’re sticking around and that they’re not going anywhere.” But while startups may lack a history and reputation, Ms. Billings sees them as often willing to go the extra mile to please their customers. With generally far fewer products—sometimes only one—many an entire high school from one particular company,” said Mr. Krueger, whose nonprofit network, known as cosn, represents chief technology officers from nearly 800 school districts. “It’s now a much more dynamic situation, where content is coming at you from a lot of different places, with school systems and teachers interested in creating their own content.” Christine Willig, a senior vice president of products for Columbus, Ohio-based McGraw-Hill Education, is the first to admit that the needs of school districts have changed. With the expansion of more affordable technologies and mobile devices, learning can now be personalized and differentiated in ways never before possible. “But the fact that we’re 100 years old doesn’t stop us from also being on the cutting edge of new technology advancements,” Ms. Willig said of her company. Since 2008, everything McGraw-Hill has created in education is available digitally or includes a digital component. When Ms. Willig attends a trade show, although she glances at what her major competitors are up to, she often spends the bulk of her time perusing the back aisle, curious to see where startups are pushing the boundaries and unleashing their creativity. She said she doesn’t see most of the smaller companies being able to provide the scale and scope of McGraw-Hill’s services, though she readily concedes the two models increasingly work in tandem. Mary Cullinane, the chief content officer and executive vice president of corporate affairs for Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, sees school districts still working with trusted partners, while also being interested in bringing new faces to the negotiation table. “We work with startups and other entities who don’t have the experience and scope of resources that we have,” she said. “We come together with those partners to create an offering which meets the needs of a district leader holistically. We see ourselves as an organization that’s able to take our content and provide access for appropriate partners to build upon.” u new companies treat the relationship with a district as a partnership, she says, with a sole focus on making a product work the best it can. A desire for nimbleness is what motivated the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, Ariz., to change its procurement tactics. “Simply put, the big companies didn’t have the best products,” said Steve Holmes, Sunnyside’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Two years ago, Sunnyside taxpayers passed an $88 million bond to help pay for the district’s transition to a 1-to-1 computing program, in which each student is given his or her own digital device. Sunnyside has about 18,000 students; 88 percent are Hispanic, and nearly 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In September, the district started a 1-to-1 initiative for 4th to 9th graders. Over the next three years, the district plans to add an additional class until the program extends to 12th grade. When the time came to select new curriculum partners, Mr. Holmes and his leadership team placed a heavy emphasis on whether the products being advertised met the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. By the 2014-15 school year, nearly all states will be required to administer online assessments to track student progress as part of the common-core requirements. “The large companies, the ones that have always held court, for them to retool their entire selection wasn’t really cost-effective when it came to common-core alignment,” said Pam Betten, who directs Sunnyside Unified’s 1-to-1 program. While Sunnyside ultimately chose to partner with a large company after selecting Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery Education for its middle school science curriculum, the district took a “calculated risk” in selecting Conceptua Math, a startup company based in Petaluma, Calif., for its 5th and 6th grade fractions curriculum. All told, the district selected more than 15 content vendors—a mix of companies both large and small. By contrast, a decade ago, the district partnered with two big companies to meet all of its curriculum needs. u

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