Every Fall, two of my favorite conferences are the BMO Back to School Conference and Ednet. Neither disappointed this year.
Back to School Conference
This conference is primarily aimed at investors, with presentations by private and public companies. Up to three years ago, the main focus was proprietary schools in higher education (known in the press as For Profit Colleges). But the tremendous growth in this market seems to have stalled, and there is a growing focus on other segments.
This year, a rising strand was career and workforce development and professional development.
Professional development purchasers are increasingly demanding providers to measure the effectiveness of PD: the impact on student achievement, retention, truancy, and staff retention. Staff retention is a huge issue; for example, the churn in Chicago Public Schools is 25%. Imagine the cost of replacing 9.000 employees every year.
Workforce development is especially hot for information technology careers. There are high paying jobs, plenty of people wanting to upgrade their skills, and almost by definition, students who are willing and able to learn online.
The biggest job growth is likely to be mid-level skills, not necessarily in IT. While there are many organizations focusing on health care jobs (many of which offer false promises of high paying jobs that don’t really exist), there still seems to be a bona fide opportunity in other fields, especially those that target local job growth.
Certified badges seem just on the cusp of mattering to employers; 2015 may finally be the year that badging takes off.
In K12, there was common agreement that to scale, products need to focus not just on teacher and student needs, but on how they help the district administrators. Reporting, data collection, increasing classroom efficiency, and interfacing with school systems are all areas that products need to address in order to sell at the district level.
Ednet was founded by Nelson Heller 26 years ago. The biggest news of Ednet14 was that Nelson announced that this was his last. EVERYONE in the education business sector likes and respects Nelson, and we all wish him many happy years.
The Parthenon Group’s Robert S Lytle had some fascinating insights:
- For the first time in 8 years, the money spent on education is actually increasing in the US, by about 3% per year. The problem is that healthcare and benefits cost increases will eat up the entire amount, so that there will still be no increases in money available for systems, content, or teachers.
- However, the switch to digital content is on. And who are the biggest adopters of digital technology in schools? Mid-career teachers. On the other hand, fewer than ½ of 1% of classrooms actually use district-purchased digital content.
- While there has been a popular backlash against the term “Common Core”, the standards themselves have sticking power. Virtually all rewrites have just had minor tweaks, and have substantially readopted the standards, just under a different name. The real battle is that states have been lying about student achievement for years; more than 2/3 of students actually are performing at pretty low levels, and the standards just make that evident to everyone. But no one wants to see low scores for his or her child.
- And the last insight, it is not reasonable to expect that automated assessment can directly prescribe learning resources to students that will strengthen student achievement anytime in the near future. No matter how much we want to automate processes, teachers are and will be the best evaluators of student needs for the foreseeable future.
My one disappointment about the conference was the lack of diversity. Latinos represent 30% of the student population today. Blacks and Asians represent another 20%+. Where were the Latino, Black, or Asian voices; who is making solutions that address the cultural differences and different needs of these populations; and who is helping classroom teachers and districts manage widely divergent classes?
Other than the Ednet team, the top tweeter at the conference was Katrina Stevens of EdSurge. And next was me: @weisburghm. If you are interested in learning how to track the impact and reach of your social networking strategy, contact us.
Please welcome Academic Business Advisors’ newest client, Verso Learning. Verso is having tremendous success in Australia helping teachers flip classroom instruction. Verso uses student voice as a driver for deeper, personalized learning; transfering the ownership of learning to the student with rapid cycles of self and peer feedback. ABA is helping Verso scale in the US, where their free app is already growing at over 5% a week.