Obliterate Enrollment Loss by Focusing on Experience

Editor’s Note: This is the video of LeiLani Cauthen’s Keynote address from the Learning Counsel’s National Gathering annual event held this year in Dallas. Her topic, “Beating Back Enrollment Loss by Becoming Expos of Learning,” is of primary importance to virtually every school system in North America.

Nearly every school district in America is seeing some degree of student attrition. Except for cases of rapid population growth or regional migration, traditional public schools are witnessing a phenomenon unseen in our lifetimes. Families are just saying “No” to the proffered public classroom experience and instead are opting for homeschooling, charter and magnet schools, virtual schools or a blending of multiple options. This year, 27 percent of school-aged children have opted out. Next year, that number is expected to climb above 30 percent. If trends continue unabated, by 2030 we may be looking at nearly 50 percent of school-aged children walking away from traditional public education in this country.

Is there a silver bullet to this challenge, or will public education be irreparably changed?

According to LeiLani Cauthen, Publisher and CEO of the Learning Counsel, “You can beat back enrollment loss by becoming focused on experience, which based on our research, is the top of the pyramid for what you have to be to survive into the 22nd century because people expect this of you. They expect a quality experience, not just from you, but from everyone and everything they encounter as they move through their day.”

In her keynote address at the Learning Counsel’s 2019 National Gathering in Dallas, Cauthen tackled the 800-pound Gorilla in education today: students are walking out on traditional public schooling and into a better learning experience. It is a situation that is both urgent and immensely important – and quite surprisingly, relatively easy to address.

“First, I'm going to talk to you about the trajectory of the market overall,” said Cauthen. “Then, we’ll look at the drivers behind it. What's really happening? Why is this happening as these kids are leaving and going to alternatives and doing all these other things? A lot of what you guys are doing at schools and districts is far better than it was 50 years ago. So maybe we're not living in the movie “Grease,” right? The time when everything was great, and people broke out into song and dance. But it's a time when you're doing things better, yet kids are descending into madness easier. They're not making it. So, what is happening? The drivers are very interesting, and the good news is, there is a right fit.”

“We're in an inverse growth model from what education was 150 years ago,” said Cauthen. “It started out as a Little House on the Prairie school model, a one-room school-house. Aggregated. And somewhere along the line in the 30s, some guy came along and said, ‘Let's create a manufacturing model and we're going to have classes and grades and march kids through this gradation pattern of change. Remember that? Okay. So, then everybody did that. And then there's a heyday in the 50s and 60s and we all congratulated ourselves on our highest graduation rates ever, and then it's been a decline ever since. So, if you understand change curve, where's this thing going?”

“There's an inverse growth model happening at the same time,” said Cauthen. “School choice, blended and flipped learning. And a heavy dose of consumerization. This whole curve is a desegregation decentralization wave. It's a cultural wave and that wave is already happened in other industries with its own drivers, right? Look at retail. Who's killing it in retail right now? Amazon, they're placeless. Who's killing it in transportation? Uber and Lyft. FedEx almost killed the post office, consumerization at the growth rate that it's at in private sector or homeschooling is on a trajectory to carve out 50 percent of public education within the next five years. It's now culturally popular in California to go out and form small consortiums, to turn somebody's garage in the neighborhood into the homeschool and all the parents take turns taking a day off. This is a cultural trend and it's increasingly being talked about. So at the opposite side of this, you have a new trend that will kick in and we predict it's going to happen around 2020, where physical schools are going to say, ‘Uh Oh, we’ve got to do something,’ and they're going to focus on quality experience. Why? Because it's the number one silver bullet on homeschooling.”

“That physical presence,” said Cauthen. “If you create it at the level of a really high art form, where it's a game of life, right? You're there, you're having meaningful social experience. And there's something I've been thrilling about. The Esports activity you get to do, or the hands-on robots project that you're going to do that you're not going to do in homeschool. Those things, the science experiments and those other things that you can do as a hub of quality experience, things like woodworking, for example. They're not going to do that stuff at home. So, there's things that you can do that are going to create quality experience. Our objective is to focus on that, then you've created something that wasn't even there before. It's a reason to be there. So now you have a reason for a physical location. But does that physical location have to be the same as it was in every other respect? No.”

“I want your mind to go in the direction of what happens when I blend learning so that all the learning is done through this magnificent automatic, fully adaptive digital curriculum with all the moving parts and pieces and individualized pathways,” said Cauthen. “And it converges via algorithms into these great small group projects and the things that cause you to be there physically. So now, instead of two roads -- online learning over here and physical learning over there, you're going to take your whole enterprise and flip it like Uber, flip the market like Amazon flipped the market.”

To watch Cauthen’s entire Keynote address, click on the video below. You’ll find reams of usable information today that you can take home and begin using in your own school tomorrow.


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