Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S3)

| S3 EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013 Industry & Innovation > n Scott Kinney, left, a senior vice president at Discovery Education, and Robert Onsi, a vice president of product development, are shown at a conference promoting digital classrooms at the company’s Silver Spring, Md., headquarters. Mr. Kinney and Mr. Onsi have worked with states to ensure that Discovery’s digital Techbooks can compete through traditional print textbookadoption processes. Lance Rosenfield /Prime for Education Week and their cyber-charter-school counterparts have often been seen through a critical lens. A 2011 study by Stanford University, for example, examined Pennsylvania cyber charter schools and found poor performance compared with that of regular public schools and brickand-mortar charter schools. In 2012, the state had 157 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 16 cyber charters, according to a report released in March by state Rep. James R. Roebuck, a Democrat, who chairs the education committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That means charter school companies have substantial interests to protect in the state. K12 Inc., for example, which operates two cyber charters in Pennsylvania, including the largest in the state, had six lobbyists there last year and established a small political action committee, the K12 Pennsylvania pac. The company also helps fund supportive parent groups that lobby at the state Capitol. Mr. Kwitowski said the company is particularly pleased with that support. Teachers’ unions and groups representing school boards, for example, have always had a place at the state policy table, but it is unusual to see parents in education committee hearings, he said. “We are very proud to help give parents and teachers involved in these schools a voice,” he said. K12 is one of the biggest financial supporters of the parents’ group Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools, said Jenny Bradmon, the executive director of that organization. Last year, close to 2,500 parents from the group spent a day at the state Capitol highlighting the benefits of cyber schools, she said. Also in Pennsylvania, the owner of the for-profit Chester, Pa.-based csmi, which runs the state’s Chester Community Charter School, donated $325,714 to the successful gubernatorial campaign of Tom Corbett in 2009 and 2010, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. That was more than any other individual donor to the campaign. In 2011, Gov. Corbett, a Republican who took office that year, visited the school and called it a model for the state. Charter schools in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the country are under serious scrutiny, however, from state lawmakers who see them as often lacking in financial and academic accountability. Mr. Roebuck recently introduced legislation to overhaul Pennsylvania’s charter school laws and strengthen oversight. In January, the state’s secretary of education, Ronald Tomalis, rejected all eight of the applications for new cyber charters for the 201314 school year, citing problems with curriculum, finance, and operations. Though Mr. Tomalis, who served as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, said such companies should be scrutinized, he doesn’t fault them for advocating on their own behalf. “Their appearance at state legislatures mirrors the appearance of these initiatives, because these initiatives weren’t around 10 years ago,” he pointed out. “The question is, like anything else, are these new sectors that provide quality and opportunities?” u Companies, Policymakers Look for Common Ground T hough advocacy by education companies can mean donating to candidates, hiring lobbyists, and getting deeply involved in the political process, some industry players say it’s often more about simply educating policymakers on new options in a digital age. Ed-tech companies, in particular, say they grapple with laws and regulations that don’t allow for new educational tools that didn’t exist when those rules were adopted, or must deal with legislators with a limited understanding of what new technologies can do to improve teaching and learning. “This is a new dynamic, and it’s different,” said Michael B. Horn, a co-founder of the Innosight Institute. “It’s another constituency group with interests that sometimes do align with [traditional educational interests] and sometimes don’t align in different ways.” The San Mateo, Calif.-based institute, which conducts research on education and health care, is a proponent of virtual learning and other new approaches in education. Updating Procedures Given such a dynamic, advocacy often begins with education, said Scott Kinney, a senior vice president for Discovery Education, based in Silver Spring, Md. In 2009, when Discovery Education launched its digital Science Techbook, the for-profit company found some states unsure of or even resistant to the idea that a digital textbook could be considered as part of the textbook-evaluation process. Though the company doesn’t employ lobbyists, “we advocate constantly,” Mr. Scott said. “A lot of people have asked me, ‘How did you get around this?’ or ‘What lobbying have you done to change this law?’ ” he said. “We try to work collaboratively to overcome obstacles.” BY MICHELLE R. DAVIS That’s what happened in Oregon, said Drew Hinds, an education specialist with the Oregon education department. Mr. Hinds said Oregon made it clear that it could not create a separate system for evaluating digital textbooks, and that Discovery would have to go through the traditional process. It took some explaining by Discovery to determine whether that would be possible, he said. Over time, the textbook-evaluation process in Oregon has made nods to the digital-textbook side, providing digital devices for teacher reviewers to allow them to evaluate the e-textbooks, and this year, for the first time, incorporating a form to detail the media format for the design of digital materials. Previously, Discovery had to fill out a form that asked the company to provide irrelevant information about such factors as the weight of paper in its books or the type of glue used to hold them together, Mr. Hinds said. “There have been some procedural changes we had to make to the process,” he said. Jane Swift, a former governor of Massachusetts and the chief operating officer for Middlebury Interactive Languages, which sells online language courses, said business can play a significant role “in being one of the catalysts for our very successful education reform movement.” Middlebury Interactive—a for-profit joint venture between Vermont-based Middlebury College and K12 Inc., an online learning company based in Herndon, Va.—announced in January a $2.6 million initiative with the Vermont education department to provide 30 of the state’s schools discounted, unlimited access to the company’s Web-based language classes. Ms. Swift said it’s reasonable for groups— whether they are private companies or public agencies—to disagree on policy and to hash that out in a public forum. But, she said, “the demonization of folks who participate in the political process is so far from the reality that I’ve experienced that it’s distressing.” 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