Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why K12 Curriculum Thwarts Innovation

4 Reasons Why K12 Curriculum Procurement Handcuffs Teachers
and Thwarts Innovation

To personalize learning and match each student with the right mix of instructional materials, teachers need to draw from a broad collection of differentiated resources. But where do these resources come from?

Traditionally, schools procured content from the giant, hegemonic textbook publishers. In the old business model, and even today, the textbook companies send reps to sell to school district curriculum adoption committees. It’s the same model that pharmaceuticals use to sell doctors drugs. Over time, this often evolves into a cozy relationship between the districts and publishers. Publishers often also sweeten their deals with additional resources, technology and services that may - or may not - be requested, then lock the districts up in 7-year, exclusive, static contracts.

What is wrong with this? 
  1. Teacher flexibility: To personalize learning, teachers need to have access to differentiated options to match to student needs. No single provider has the all the options a teacher would need to meet all student needs.
  2. Student Equity: Large publishers design their products for a factory model of learning with one-size-fits-all curriculum to serve the middle of the bell curve for the most students leaving the accelerated, remedial, ESL and special needs students underserved. 
  3. Paying for stuff you don’t use: Schools are paying for content, services and technology they do not use. In any given class, a teacher may use but a small fraction of the “approved” curriculum. Instead, most teachers are opting to find their own solutions, spending precious time searching for current, engaging and relevant resources, rather than using the approved options.
  4. School stuck with outdated or bad content because publishers have no incentive to improve quality: Once a multi-year contract is signed, the publishers have a reputation of vanishing. When publishers get their money up front, they have no financial incentive to continually improve their products. Again and again, I hear stories of teachers finding persistent typos and culturally offensive materials lingering year after year without correction or replacement.

What is the alternative? At Core Learning Exchange, we have created a new business model that promotes teachers’ choice, student equity, and rewards publishers for what teachers and students actually use. We create a level playing field where all providers - large publishers, curriculum development teams and independent teachers - compete to be selected by teachers for their classroom’s specific needs and interests. Publishers are rewarded (only) when their lesson is chosen and used.

We sell flat fee marketplace subscriptions that allow teachers to choose from an unlimited number of lessons, based solely on how well-matched the lessons are to individual students’ needs. Like “Spotifiy”, we redistribute subscription revenue back to content creators in proportion to the number of times a lesson is used. To promote student equity and provide equal access to high quality materials for all types of students, we incentivize publishers to serve niche needs by paying higher royalties. The smaller the niche, the higher the royalty.

When publishers are compensated only when their content is chosen from among equivalent offerings, it forces the them to be accountable for each lesson. The Market drives the competition that spurs innovation, and forces the publishers to continually monitor and improve their offerings so that theirlessons stand out as the best. Because Core-LX pays higher royalties for differentiated needs, publishers are motivated to seek out and serve smaller and more focused groups of students.

Now what makes more sense for your district? Continue to procure content the way we always have and live with the natural consequences of a monopoly? Or change to the model that provides the right incentives to support innovation at every level and rewards creators of the highest quality options for differentiated needs?

Jeffrey Katzman Founder & CEO, Core Learning Exchange - @KatzmanJeff @Core_LX

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