Today, Curriculum is Everyone's Business
For those of you who are history buffs out there, you may remember a quote from our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. Silent Cal, who was known for brevity in his speeches and dealings with the press, famously told the American Society of Newspaper Editors, “The Business of America is Business.” At the time he uttered those remarks, America was awash in the euphoria of the Roaring 20s. As Coolidge noted, American businessmen were obsessed with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. It was a time that could be described as the Wild, Wild West of business. Comparing that to our industry, today’s roaring 20’s can be called the Wild, Wild West of education business. In the 1920s, the business of America was business. In the 2020s, the business of every school is curriculum.
Last year, American schools spent $36.2 Billion on EdTech, including a whopping $11 Billion on Digital Curriculum alone. Individual districts averaged $10.1 Million on EdTech, and individual schools spent an average of $138 thousand each. In addition, $7.9 Billion was spent on non-digital (printed) resources, including institutional, school and teacher purchase of textbooks, workbooks, classroom resources, and other educational supplies and materials. These figures do not include any staffing or professional development costs associated with these purchases, which in some instances could nearly double the amounts.
Setting aside the fixed costs of 70 percent for salaries and benefits, 11 percent for purchased services including food, transportation and janitorial services, 2 percent for tuition and related services and nearly 10 percent for capital outlay and debt interest, you can see that curriculum and associated technology takes up nearly all the discretionary funding that remains. Take out all the mandatory fixed costs, and curriculum touches virtually every dollar that is left. And within that remaining funding, it is more wide-open than it has ever been.
For years, the curriculum spend was controlled by a handful of companies like Pearson, Houghton and McGraw. Textbook purchases were almost automatic, and each buy lasted five to seven years. The big publishers had a lock on that business. It was a pretty sweet gig for them, and it caused a stranglehold on quality and our learners suffered.
When the digital revolution began in earnest in 2010, the big publishers digitized their wares and tried to buy up all their competition to kill it. Much like John D. Rockefeller who declared, “The American Beauty Rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it,” Pearson and the other giant publishers tried hard to stamp out all the early morning buds around them. But ultimately there was too much talent out there, and better, more engaging software began to take a foothold in the market. By 2020, the giant publishers had lost their stranglehold on the American learner and are very close to collapsing under their own weight.
Real digital courseware that incorporates highly skilled pro editing, graphic design and flawless navigation offers an immersive learning experience that matches the high level of user experience that learners get in their everyday lives. Designing for digital creates student agency and heightens achievement. Pro content ignites the learning process and expands the boundaries of instruction, allowing schools and districts to provide a content-rich experience for their learners.
In a market split between curriculum and technology, it is the curriculum folks who call the shots. Ask any technology director. Even in decisions about hardware, the assistant superintendent for curriculum or the curriculum director almost always take the lead. That said, many smart districts are now combining the position as director of curriculum and technology. Who has the ultimate decision will vary widely by district, and there are often many people involved in the buying decision. If technology is involved, it’s a safe bet that the curriculum executives will have a say so.
As large as the school curriculum market is, it is dwarfed by the growing consumer digital curriculum market, which is now at $21 Billion and growing 17 percent annually. As both markets mature, they are blurring the lines. Consumer-grade curriculum is finding its way into schools, and the 27 percent of students who matriculate from home or attend non-traditional schooling are accessing school materials. Where does one end and the other start? In the end, it won’t even matter. It will be one giant market, with few rules other than the best tech wins out. Like I said, it’s wide open. And it’s a seller’s market. School business is now the Wild, Wild West. And the business of schools is now curriculum.
About the Author
Charles Sosnik is an education journalist and editor and serves as Editor in Chief at the Learning Counsel. He is an education fellow at the EP3 Foundation, and a regular contributor to some of the most influential platforms in education including the Learning Counsel, EdNews Daily, edCircuit and EdTech Digest.