Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S16)
EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013
Industry & Innovation > www.edweek.org/go/i&ireport
Big Companies Face K-12 Shift
BY AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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
À la Carte Purchasing Tactics Signal Districts’ Unique Needs
Big Companies Face K-12 Shift
Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report