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School & District Management

CEOs, Schools Chiefs Trade Notes on K-12 Business Trends

By Rhea R. Borja — November 08, 2005 4 min read

Public education must be rebuilt to produce students who are better prepared for the global marketplace, and the private sector can play a crucial role in doing that, argued speakers at a conference last week for two groups that don’t often cross paths: public school administrators and corporate chief executive officers.

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Test scores in American public schools have been “stagnant for nearly two generations,” and private industry should pressure policymakers to pay teachers much more than they earn now, hold students academically accountable, and give parents more school choice, said Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard University government professor and the editor in chief of the education research and opinion quarterly Education Next.

“If you can pay the top 10 percent of good teachers and get rid of the bottom 10 percent, real gains could be made,” he said.

Mr. Peterson was the opening speaker at Eduventures Inc.’s “Solutions for Schools,” a two-day conference held Nov. 1-2 at a downtown hotel here within shouting distance of the Charles River. Eduventures is a Boston-based market-research firm that tracks the burgeoning market in education, from kindergarten through graduate school.

The roughly 230 conference attendees included district superintendents, high-level officials from education technology and publishing companies, and representatives of national education-related associations.

“It’s a top-level dialogue for the decisionmakers on both ends,” said Lisa M. Klett, the senior marketing manager for Eduventures.

The conference was the company’s second such annual gathering. While last year’s event offered a bird’s-eye overview of the K-12 market, Ms. Klett said, this one delved into “nitty-gritty detail” of specific education topics.

Those subjects included the ways in which the federal No Child Left Behind Act is opening new business opportunities; the moves districts are making toward integrating technology into systems of assessment and of data management and analysis; and the partnerships public schools and private companies are forging to improve student learning.

The shadow of the nearly 4-year-old federal law—with its provisions in areas from test-based accountability to tutoring for students in lagging schools—loomed large over many of the trends analysts pointed to in the $23 billion annual K-12 market.

Those trends include the increasing use of educational technology to customize student learning and provide benchmarks and state assessments; to create interactive classroom content; to provide “anytime, anywhere” online-learning options; and to centralize student-information and other school data, said Timothy Wiley, a K-12 analyst for Eduventures.

Tutoring and test preparation are the fastest-growing segment of the precollegiate market this year, though sales to private consumers still outpace school district sales by far, Mr. Wiley said. However, NCLB-related funding for supplemental education services has grown over the past few years, from $500 million in 2002 to $620 million this year.

More education-related content will also be online in the coming months. The $1.1 billion market for reference materials, which experienced a modest 3 percent to 5 percent growth rate this year, is fast becoming digitized, as are professional-development courses and supplemental content.

Districts are also casting a more critical eye at how technology affects student learning, some conference presenters said. The efforts to realize a 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio—once the dream of many educators—are “flattening out,” Mr. Wiley said. Now, school districts are increasingly buying technology that benefits all students in a classroom, such as interactive whiteboards.

And the lines between back- office administrative systems and instructional-management systems are blurring, he said. “We’ll see continued consolidation in this market,” he added.

Partnerships That Work

District leaders need to be assertive and communicate openly to make the most of their relationships with private vendors, several company executives and educators at a workshop on public-private partnerships said.

“Have a vision of what you want,” Arnie Glassberg, the superintendent of the 11,500-student San Lorenzo, Calif., school district, advised his fellow administrators.

The northern California district partnered with Dell Inc. several years ago to provide wireless Internet access throughout the district and 3,500 laptop computers to students in grades 4-12, as well as to integrate the technology into classrooms to support project-based learning.

The partnership wasn’t pain-free. The district had to adjust to Dell’s corporate culture, Mr. Glassberg said. “Technology companies don’t speak the same language that educators speak,” he noted. “Their organizational structure was also different. … Also, we had to open up communications.”

But since then, attendance has risen in the district, in which 33 percent of the students come from low-income families, as have student grades. Truancy and suspensions also have dropped, Mr. Glassberg added.

Kathy Thomas, the education strategy manager for Dell, said: “If you call us and just want the best price, then that’s what you get. But if you want more, then we get excited.”

As the closing keynote speaker, Christopher Whittle called for the United States to invest as much in the research and development of public education as it does in R&D for the health-care and military arenas.

Mr. Whittle, the founder and president of the education management company Edison Schools Inc., said the federal government spends $27 billion annually on research and development related to health care, for example, but only $260 million for education-related R&D.

“We spend a hundred times more as a society to keep us old people alive versus what we spend on children to have a fair start,” said Mr. Whittle.

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as CEOs, Schools Chiefs Trade Notes on K-12 Business Trends

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