As hybrid charter schools have grown in number, so, too, has companies’ understanding of how to serve the small but growing niche of schools looking for content, technical support, and conceptual guidance on mixing online instruction and face-to-face learning.
And among those companies, it appears the usual suspects from the virtual education world are leading the pack.
Herndon, Va.-based K12 Inc. and Baltimore-based Connections Education have grown around business models that encourage flexible product offerings, from full-time virtual school management to individual course offerings for brick-and-mortar schools. That range has made the pair perhaps a natural fit for the hybrid school market, where K12 serves as an exclusive content provider to schools like the San Francisco Flex Academy high school and the Youth Connection Charter School Virtual High School in Chicago.
It’s worth noting that the New York City-based Pearson Education—one of the “Big Three” of traditional textbook publishing, with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, of Boston, and the New York-based McGraw-Hill Cos.—purchased Connections Education last September.
Meanwhile, the publicly run Florida Virtual School, based in Orlando, has a for-profit wing that offers its courses and instructional services in increasingly modular formats, on the condition that revenues generated from the endeavor are funneled back into work aimed at its free service to Florida public school students.
While the for-profit wing is known as the “global services division,” domestic schools—including charter schools—are also among Florida Virtual’s clients in a venture its leaders insist helps all students using any of the school’s resources.
"[Modular] learning objects and breaking apart content is where we’re really moving not only for our global market but for our own [in-state] students,” said Claudine Townley, the school’s director of global services, “because we can create a more personalized experience.”
The school also has a partnership with Pearson to offer its content through the publisher’s platforms.
Focusing on School Leaders
Other companies that specialize in the targeted online, personalized instruction increasingly found in traditional brick-and-mortar schools—often as supplemental tools—are also finding their way into hybrid charters. For example, the five K-5 charter schools managed by Rocketship Education in San Jose, Calif., all utilize an online, adaptive math curriculum from Bellevue, Wash.-based DreamBox Learning Inc., and a similarly structured reading program from Seattle-based Headsprout Inc., during students’ daily learning lab sessions.And the blended-learning field that includes hybrid charters is even growing to a point where it has seen the development of an industry-specific company that balances roles as a learning-management-system provider and an educational consulting group.
Education Elements, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup, was launched in 2010 and has quickly become a reputable source for insight and guidance on starting blended-learning programs, both for the charter school world and for other public and private educational ventures.
The group works directly only with school leadership that uses Education Elements’ hybrid learning-management-system platform. But in doing so, it helps define for school leaders the concept of a blended-learning school model, assist in the design of such models, steer school founders to the most appropriate content for their particular model, and give teachers professional development on linking that content to their face-to-face teaching.
It’s information that helps hybrid charter operations like the KIPP Empower Academy hybrid charter school in Los Angeles get off the ground.
“We are not fundraisers for schools; we help schools articulate the blended-learning models in their own fundraising efforts,” Education Elements’ president and founder, Anthony Kim, wrote in an email. “We provide consulting and advisory services around school design and technology integration, but we only work with schools who are interested in our blended-learning platform.”
Coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as Companies Target Hybrid-Charter Market