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Inside the Florida K-12 Market: District Priorities and Pain Points

inside the florida k 12 market district priorities and pain points
EdWeek Market Brief, Florida Special Re

Many states have taken a cautious approach to reopening schools for in-person instruction during the pandemic. Florida was much more ambitious.

The vast majority of school districts across the nation’s third most populous state were required by the state’s department of education to offer an in-person learning option at the beginning of the academic year. That meant the state’s 67 main, county-based districts were tasked with finding a way to serve not only families who wanted face-to-face instruction, but also those who chose online instruction at home.

As such, Florida’s experiences offer a preview of what an increasing number of school districts around the country are now going through, as they transition into more fully in-person and hybrid instructional models. A new special report, available exclusively to EdWeek Market Brief members, provides education companies and other organizations keen on working in Florida with an in-depth look at the biggest needs that the state’s 67 school districts face, as they continue to straddle the brick-and-mortar and online learning worlds.

Through our reporting and analysis, readers will learn about Florida school systems’ hunger for academic interventions and other strategies to address learning loss, and their need to bolster the well-being of students whose emotional states have been made fragile by the upheaval of COVID-19.

Readers will get districts’ perspectives on the massive scale of their device purchasing over the past year, and prevailing worries about lackluster internet connectivity in students’ homes. And they will learn about the pressure Florida districts face to implement new state academic standards — and to scaffold myriad instructional materials, assessments, and professional development for teachers on top of those standards.

This special report is the final installment in a three-part series on state markets that have enormous importance for companies in the K-12 market. The first two reports focused on Texas and California. This report, like the others, includes original research drawn from surveys of Florida K-12 officials. But the heart of the analysis is interviews EdWeek Market Brief’s editorial team conducted with key district administrators, including superintendents and their top deputies, curriculum directors, finance officials, and others.

Student Engagement, Standards, and Remediation

The Florida report includes perspectives of district officials like Robert Bixler, the associate superintendent for curriculum and digital learning in the Orange County school system, based in Orlando.

Bixler explains how his district began turning its attention to students’ anticipated learning loss as early as last summer, offering targeted academic programs and focusing on students thought to be most vulnerable, particularly in elementary grades.

Since then, the 212,000-student district has been exploring strategies for remediation that can be delivered in a variety of in-person and online settings.

“You are always concerned about the kids who are most at risk and what they’re missing in school,” Bixler said. “We’re all trying to find ways to meet their needs–with intervention, tutoring, all those things.”

Among the other insights offered in the report:

  • Survey data collected from Florida K-12 officials about their top academic priorities over the next year – which include both instructional and non-academic needs.
  • Perspective on the key factors that will drive Florida district officials’ decisions on selection and purchasing of curriculum and other academic resources to align with new state academic standards.
  • Details on the current blend of in-person vs. remote instruction in Florida districts, and their plans for offering summer instruction focused on learning loss.
  • The results of in-depth interviews with district officials from across the state about their biggest needs from vendors, the state policies shaping their work, how they plan to spend federal funding.

Another major school system highlighted in the report, the Palm Beach County district, is – like many in Florida — trying to navigate two different worlds, with about 50 percent of its students taking classes in person, and remainder working remotely.

Teachers have found “unbelievable and inspiring” ways to help students and encourage them to think creatively in online settings, particularly through technology, said Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Schools Keith Oswald.

But the 193,000-student district needs more innovation and flexibility from education companies, to keep students locked in no matter what their learning environment.

“Engagement has been our number-one priority,” he said. Every day the district looks for “little things that can enhance how [tech] is used in this environment,” and vendors who can “enhance what students do in a distance learning space.”

EdWeek Market Brief members can access the report here.

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Inside the California K-12 Market: District Priorities and Pain Points

inside the california k 12 market district priorities and pain points
Inside California's K-12 Market: A Special Report

California’s school districts have taken a go-it-slow approach to reopening in-person, compared to some other states. It’s just one of the factors shaping the education market in the nation’s most populous state, which is the subject of a penetrating new EdWeek Market Brief special report.

District officials across California are under acute pressure to deliver distance learning that will engage students and satisfy families, given the uncertainty about when schools will return to face-to-face learning in classrooms.

That uncertainty persists despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s urging that schools across the state, which serve 6.3 million students, make the switch to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

Administrators and educators in the state are also trying to navigate students’ social-emotional needs and overall well-being, which educators fear have been shaken by the pandemic.

Those are just some of the themes that EdWeek Market Brief explores in the report, the second in a three-part series on critical education markets for K-12 companies. The first installment focused on Texas, and the report to follow will delve into Florida.

This report, like the others in the series, is based heavily on in-depth interviews EdWeek Market Brief conducted with district officials about their pressing academic and spending priorities and what they want from vendors in the months and years to come.

It includes David Saleh Rauf’s top story guiding readers through district demands. It features an “In Their Own Voices” section in which we allow our readers to hear from California K-12 officials directly about their most urgent challenges. And it offers the results of state-specific surveys of California district officials conducted by the EdWeek Research Center.

The report offers insights from district leaders like Michael Matsuda, superintendent at the 30,000-student Anaheim Union High School District. He speaks to the pressures he and his peers around the state face to not only craft academic strategies to help students during remote learning, but also to find ways to help a “whole generation that is traumatized” by the events that have played out over the last 11 months.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of districts that are focused on just jamming content down students’ throats because they’re behind,” Matsuda told EdWeek Market Brief.

“While there is a need to address learning loss, it’s really about how we build resilience for this entire generation. So a lot of our resources are going to go into social workers and counselors and school psychologists, and a retraining of our teaching staff on dealing with this.”

The report brings revealing insights on key issues affecting the California K-12 market, including:

  • New survey data about where California district officials expect to spend the most or the least over the next year, in areas such as social-emotional learning, curriculum, PD, learning management and student information systems, and parent-communication tools.
  • Perspectives on how state policies – such as the budget, and decisions about remote vs. in-person learning – are going to play out over the next year and affect district priorities.
  • Survey data on which elements of Local Control Accountability Plans – key blueprints laying out California local district priorities – K-12 leaders expect companies seeking to do business with them to pay the most attention to.
  • Insights on the extent to which California districts are going “off-list” and straying from state adoption guidelines in purchasing curriculum.

EdWeek Market Brief’s members can access the full report here.

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Inside One District’s Effort to Bring Internet to Disconnected Students

inside one districts effort to bring internet to disconnected students
MB K 12 Insider Feb 4

One of the biggest challenges facing school districts during the pandemic is also one of those most fundamental — they have many students who don’t have reliable internet access.

The Killeen Independent School District in central Texas has taken a multifaceted approach to solving that problem.John Hocking is director of network and…

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K-12 Dealmaking: Weld North Completes Major Digital Core Curriculum Acquisition

k 12 dealmaking weld north completes major digital core curriculum acquisition

Weld North Education, a major provider of digital curriculum, has acquired BookheadEd Learning, the developer of a digital-first core curriculum, at a time when K-12 districts and companies are more pressed than ever to find innovative ways to deliver academic resources.

The flagship product of BookheadEd Learning is StudySync, a online curriculum that combines fiction and nonfiction texts with video and multimedia.

“It is a media-first product, and engagement is crucial to its success,” said Jonathan Grayer, founder and CEO of Weld North. “The folks that built StudySync are very focused on engagement and know how to do that.”

Weld North purchased BookheadEd for two main reasons, Grayer said.

First, BookheadEd’s recent success and increased market share relative to textbook providers raised Weld North’s confidence in the company, especially as the education marketplace moves further and further into digitally driven classroom materials.

The second reason stems from the high quality of BookheadEd’s resources, according to Grayer.

“We’re going to use their development shop to make all kinds of instructional material to broaden our product set,” he said.

Weld North, founded in 2010, has made several acquisitions over the years, and its portfolio has grown to include online courseware and intervention company Edgenuity; and supplemental curriculum provider Imagine Learning; core curriculum company LearnZillion.

In a press release announcing the acquisition, Weld North noted that StudySync’s curriculum has been adopted in California and Texas, and is under consideration in the Florida English/language arts instructional materials adoption process.

Jonathan Grayer
Jonathan Grayer

If Florida ultimately adopts the product, that would notch StudySync a place on the adoption lists of three dominant K-12 state markets, in terms of public school enrollment. The foothold the company has established in those locations factored into Weld North’s acquisition decision, Grayer said.

“You can’t be a major player in core curriculum without being a major player in Texas, California, and Florida,” he said.

The deal comes as many districts have been forced to make a massive shift to online learning, in response to the the health crisis imposed by COVID-19. Many districts are deeply concerned about their ability to engage students in remote and hybrid learning environment.

The acquisition is Weld North’s second in the core curriculum space, after LearnZillion, a deal that was completed in January 2020. StudySync will help to round out Weld North’s core offerings, Grayer said.

Weld North expects to remain very active in the acquisition space.

“We’re looking to add digital curriculum of all kinds, and we’re talking to lots of owners of assets that are not duplicative of what we have,” Grayer said.

A New Investment From Onex Corp. The acquisition comes the same week it was announced that Onex Corp. has agreed to make a “significant investment” in Weld North, alongside existing investors, including global tech investment firm Silver Lake, according to a Monday press release.

“Onex shares our passion for education technology and has an impressive track record investing behind industries undergoing transformation,” Silver Lake Managing Director Jonathan Durham said in a statement. “Since the time we first invested three years ago, we have never been more enthusiastic about Weld North Education’s future and we look forward to working closely with Onex and Jonathan for years to come.”

Onex coming into Weld North’s investment picture gives Weld North added stability for the long haul, which should help foster confidence among teachers and students in Weld North’s products,
Grayer said.

‘All-in-One’ Platform for Early Education Raises $55 Million. Brightwheel, an early education platform, has raised $55 million in Series C funding in a round led by Addition Capital, participated in by Emerson Collective, Next Play Ventures, GGV Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Eniac Ventures, and private investors Julia and Kevin Hartz, as well as Daniel Shapero.

The company plans to use the investment to focus on new product development and expansion, and to support a fully distributed workforce.

Brightwheel provides an all-in-one SaaS platform serving preschools, childcare providers, camps, and afterschool programs. It also seeks to help teachers manage their day and communicate with parents, gives parents deeper insight into curricula, and automates administrative processes.

Since COVID started, Brightwheel has focused on pandemic-specific needs like at-home learning, safety and health checks, digital communications, and no-touch sign-in systems.

A Pass Educational Group Acquires Content Development House. A Pass Educational Group, a major custom education content provider, has acquired Victory Productions, another major content development house for learning companies and organizations, A Pass announced.

The acquisition adds educational language translation services in Spanish and other languages to A Pass’ portfolio of K-12 and higher education offerings, according to the announcement.

A Pass partners with educational publishers and higher ed institutions in creating content that seeks to engage learners at all levels.

“A Pass and Victory Productions share so much, from expertise to values to a proven record of success,” said A Pass founder and CEO Andrew Pass. “We look forward to bringing them seamlessly together with complementary services to ensure that same kind of success for our customers and the educators and students they work with.”

Victory Production’s name will dissolve, but the announcement says the company’s customers can “expect to enjoy the same customer service experience and satisfaction they’ve come to expect,” as well as access to new services such as e-learning development.

Cialfo Receives $15 Million Investment. Cialfo, a company focused on international student mobility,  this week announced it received $15 million in Series A funding.

In addition to a range of offerings in the higher ed space, Cialfo provides several web and mobile solutions, including AI-powered college search, application management tools, a communications suite, and the ability to directly apply to thousands of formal and informal higher learning opportunities around the world, the company said in a press release.

Cialfo is “accelerating discussions” around acquiring similar firms that operate in K-12 education, with an aim to establish a stronger position and greater market share, the company said in a statement.

“A standstill on global travel has upended education entirely – forcing high schools and universities to engage current and potential students virtually,” Cialfo CEO and co-founder Rohan Pasari said in a statement. “The adoption of technology-driven education solutions is rising at an unprecedented rate and we have a key role to play in accelerating the student recruitment process from physical to virtual channels.”

Follow EdWeek Market Brief on Twitter @EdMarketBrief or connect with us on LinkedIn.

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Critical Ways Education Companies Can Support Employees During the Pandemic

critical ways education companies can support employees during the pandemic
MB Market Trends Jan 28

Education businesses should ask their employees what support they need to be successful during COVID — and honor their success under difficult circumstances.

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How One Education Company Took Customers From Free to Paid

how one education company took customers from free to paid
MB Analysts View Jan 21

Newsela Chief Marketing Officer Adriel Sanchez breaks down how the company arranged free access to its products during COVID and why it saw professional development as so important.

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What Kinds of Companies Are Districts Turning To for the First Time During COVID-19?

what kinds of companies are districts turning to for the first time during covid 19
MB Exc Data Jan 14

Many school districts are cautious when it comes to taking risks. And a global pandemic would seem like an especially unlikely time for them to begin taking chances on new products delivered by unfamiliar companies.

EdWeek Market Brief recently surveyed district and school leaders on the circumstances in which they’ve worked with a vendor or organization…

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Former D.C. Schools Chief’s Curriculum Company Aims to ‘Unlock a World’ for Black Students

former d c schools chiefs curriculum company aims to unlock a world for black students
MB Analysts View Jan 14

Kaya Henderson’s new company, Reconstruction, is offering supplemental curriculum meant to help a generation of Black students know their own history and culture.

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Virginia District Looking for Textbooks, New Mexico District Seeks Digital Curriculum

virginia district looking for textbooks new mexico district seeks digital curriculum

Universal screener, textbooks for multiple subjects, digital curriculum. Stafford County Schools in Virginia is in the market for new print textbooks and digital materials, while the Atlanta Independent School System seeks a universal screener. Further, the Albuquerque district in New Mexico is looking for digital curriculum.

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Florida District Buying Curricula Across Subjects; Texas System Seeks ELL Software

florida district buying curricula across subjects texas system seeks ell software

Elementary ELA curriculum, curricula across subjects, ELL translation software. Baltimore County public schools is searching the market for an elementary English/language arts curriculum, while one of Florida’s largest districts is accepting bids for curricula spanning several subjects.

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