Professional Development

Education Professional Development Superpower? ISTE and ASCD Set to Merge

By Alyson Klein — September 29, 2022 6 min read
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In the latest sign of just how central technology has become to teaching and learning, the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit that helps K-12 teachers make the most of digital tools, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, one of the oldest and largest K-12 professional development associations, are slated to merge.

Richard Culatta, currently the chief executive officer of ISTE, would lead the new, larger organization if ASCD members vote to approve the plan, the final step in the process. The merged organization—which is still yet to be named—would share a governing board, according to the plan.

Under the proposed agreement, ASCD and ISTE would retain their separate identities and brands, Culatta said. But it is unclear how exactly that would work under the new umbrella organization.

Both organizations believe the merger is a “no brainer,” given the unprecedented advancement in digital tools, devices, and internet connectivity spurred by the pandemic and the growth in digital learning over the past decade or so, Culatta said.

This idea of bringing an infusion of joy back into learning, that's something that I think you'll see we will work on as a shared messaging across both of our communities.

It is “very clear that the future of education needs to combine really solid leadership on the instructional side, and effective use of technology and new approaches” on the other, Culatta said. “When you can bring those two together, that’s where magic starts to happen. That’s where the solutions for the future are going to come from.”

The merger has already gotten the green light from the boards of both nonprofits, but there’s still one more key step: ASCD’s 80,000 members will be given the opportunity to vote and a simple majority will decide the final outcome.

The merger would create an organization that’s poised to serve the shifting needs of the K-12 field, said Sandy Husk, ASCD’s interim CEO and executive director.

“This is exactly what educators need—for organizations to combine their strengths and to make it even more seamless for them to access the information that they need,” she said.

“ISTE is two steps ahead of us on really solidly understanding innovation in the digital tech space. ASCD is two steps ahead in terms of really focusing on the whole child and the whole concept of how you support educators” through research and resources that can immediately inform practice.

ASCD is well-known for its publications and newsletters, such as Educational Leadership magazine and ASCD SmartBrief; and ISTE owns EdSurge, an online news service that covers educational technology issues and other topics in K-12 and higher education.

Designing a one-stop shop for tech and professional development

The merger comes at a moment when professional development for education technology could use a shot in the arm. Though more districts than ever have embraced 1-to-1 computing initiatives that put a device in the hands of every student, teachers still consistently say technology training is insufficient.

For instance, in a July survey by the EdWeek Research Center, nearly half of educators—48 percent—said the training they or their teachers receive to use educational technology tools was mediocre or poor. And more than half said the ed-tech professional development experiences educators participate in are mostly one-time events with little or no follow-up coaching or training.

One area that Culatta believes ASCD can help ISTE strengthen: Helping teachers who have embraced technology move into leadership roles in their districts. “Our members are great, passionate leaders,” he said. But “we don’t really have a pipeline for that. We just say, ‘OK! Good luck!’”

He’s also hoping a merged organization can help reignite educators’ passion for teaching, at a time when employee morale in K-12 schools has been circling the drain.

“This idea of bringing an infusion of joy back into learning, that’s something that I think you’ll see we will work on as a shared messaging across both of our communities,” Culatta said.

During a transition period, staff from both organizations will take on leadership roles. No staff reductions are expected at ASCD or ISTE as a result of the merger, according to Husk and an ISTE spokesperson. And though ASCD and ISTE are both known for their large annual conferences, there are no immediate plans to combine those events into one.

In the weeks leading up to Nov. 14, when ASCD members will vote on the merger, Culatta and Husk will reach out to people in both communities to delve into how the merged organization can meet their needs.

“We really care about what the membership thinks, whether they’re voting or not,” Husk said. “We want to be connected to the people who have been connected with us.”

Husk is confident that ASCD’s membership will vote to approve the merger, given the enthusiasm she’s seen so far. “I don’t imagine a world where this won’t move forward,” she said. But if for some reason it does not, she expects the two organizations will continue to collaborate.

Merging two very different cultures

The past several years have been turbulent ones for the nearly 80-year-old ASCD. The organization was more than $4.6 million in the red, according to its 2019 tax filings, the most recent available. ASCD has had several recent years of financial trouble, and saw significant staff cuts. Over the past five years it has had four leaders, including two CEOs and two interim CEOs.

However, ASCD turned a $2.5 million operating profit in fiscal year 2021, and its most recent financial report, which is still being finalized, is positive, a spokesperson said. Last year, the organization’s board approved a blueprint to help ASCD transition to a more digital model “for growth and to ensure a durable future,” the spokesperson added.

The organization has had complaints about “constant layoffs,” “low morale,” “widespread bullying,” and “poor decisionmaking by management,” according to recent reviews of the company on Glassdoor, a networking site that allows anonymous posting by people purporting to be current or former employees. “Have had three bosses in three years,” one person wrote. “The only thing they seem to produce is stressed-out leaders.” Other reviews, however, praised the hardworking and dedicated staff at ASCD.

And reactions to the planned merger, which was shared with staff this week, have been positive, said the spokesperson, who shared this comment from the executive director of California ASCD: “Looking forward to an even brighter future,” said Kathleen McCreery.

Reviews about ISTE on the same Glassdoor site tout the “smart, hardworking staff,” “great mission,” and “very motivated, highly intelligent, and passionate people.” ISTE, which was established in 1989, was roughly $1 million in the black, according to its 2020 tax document, the most recent on record. Culatta, the former chief innovation officer for the Rhode Island department of education and director of the office of education technology at the U.S. Department of Education, has led the organization since May of 2017.

While Culatta acknowledged that there have been “some tough years at ASCD,” he believes “the expertise that’s there is just unmatched anywhere in the education ecosystem.” Merging two organizations with broad reach “is going to be tough,” Culatta said. “But I think the value is being able to unlock amazing supports and resources for the education community as we bring our collective brains together.”

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