EdWeek Market Brief surveyed district administrators, principals, and teachers about whether they have a positive or negative view of products designed to curb “learning loss” — and why.
Pre-K-12 instructional materials are just one slice of a publishing industry that broadly thrived over the past year.
Data released last week by the Association of American Publishers show that sales of educational instructional materials in March more than doubled, year over year.
Overall educational revenues for instructional materials climbed by $111.7 million, while revenues for pre-K-12 resources reached $61.4 million in March — an 82 percent jump over a year ago.
Sales of higher education course materials rose even more sharply, reaching $50.4 million in March, a 179 percent increase over the previous year.
Education publishers’ gains over the past year have come at a time when public and private investment in education markets has soared. Federal lawmakers have approved three different stimulus measures, the most recent of which will channel $130 million into K-12 education. Venture capitalists poured $16.1 billion total into ed tech in 2020, $7.9 billion more than the previous record set in 2018.
One factor driving the increases in education publishers’ revenues: Two of the three largest state markets for vendors in terms of student population – Texas and Florida – purchased significantly more instructional materials this March than a year ago, according to AAP’s PreK-12 Books & Materials Monthly Report for March 2021.
Florida and Texas K-12 leaders bought $8.5 million and $2.3 million worth of pedagogical materials, respectively, showing increases of 331 percent and 137 percent over March 2020.
On the other hand, sales of instructional materials in California, the state with the largest K-12 population, dropped from $6.1 million to $3.9 million.
In addition to higher monthly sales, Florida also generated a sizable increase in revenues for instructional materials across the full years of 2019 and 2020, growing from $6.9 million to $11.4 million. During the same period, annual sales for California fell from $12.1 million to $10.1 million, and yearly sales for Texas declined from $7.8 million to $7.2 million.
The educational sales data account for materials covering reading and language arts, science, social studies, math, English as a second language, career and technical education, as well as miscellaneous other subject areas.
Other segments of the publishing industry have also seen their revenues increase over the past year. Consumer books grossed $743.9 million in March, a 34.2-percent increase year-over-year, while professional books generated $33.1 million, a 33.2-percent gain.
AAP released the information based on questionnaires they sent to publishers, the group said. The monthly reports draw revenue data from approximately 1,300 publishers.
Publishing sales for this year are more comparable to 2017-2019 levels than to industry revenues last year, which was a “tough” time for the industry, AAP said.
School buildings across the U.S. started closing in March 2020 amid the initial onslaught of COVID-19, forcing districts to quickly pivot away from traditional instructional methods and swiftly reprioritize their spending.
Though the publishing industry posted striking growth rates in March, the industry typically sees stronger performance over the summer, and so the next few months will provide a better indicator of the sector’s resilience, according to the AAP.
The impact of learning loss during the pandemic won’t just be felt in the classroom. It could also saddle the future economy.
That was the core argument put forward recently by a group of eight business leaders from North Carolina, who made a public plea for state policymakers to address students’ academic slippage during COVID.
Among their recommendations, laid out at a recent online event, were for state policymakers to set up a recurring funding stream to train all of the state’s educators, and to move from a “student tutoring model” for literacy education to a model that supports educators based on the “science of reading.”
Reading proficiency among North Carolina 3rd graders slightly worsened during the pandemic.
According to a report last month by the (Raleigh) News & Observer, accounting for 67.7 percent of 3rd-grade students who had taken midyear assessments, 75.4 percent of 3rd graders were not reading at a proficient level, compared to 73.6 percent last school year.
“Let’s be clear: This is not just a North Carolina problem,” said Kelly King, chairman and CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Truist Financial Corp., a consumer and commercial bank holding company. “This is a national problem.”
The impact of learning loss does not appear to be hitting all U.S. school communities equally. A report released by McKinsey & Company in December found that there was a 10 percent drop in average K-5 reading levels among majority-white schools during COVID, but a 23 percent drop in average K-5 reading levels among minority-majority schools.
Another participant in the North Carolina event, Honeywell Chairman and CEO Darius Adamczyk, noted that COVID has likely accelerated the need for higher educational attainment, a demand that is unlikely to abate. Honeywell, headquartered in North Carolina, is a conglomerate with a heavy focus in aerospace and building technologies, among other industries.
Investing in early reading proficiency is integral to weathering a changing economy, and for students to gain education and skills to meet the needs of businesses, Adamczyk said.
“The recommendations we’re making today will address inequities in our workforce and help us develop a strong, diverse, and resilient talent pipeline well into the future,” he said.
In addition to recommending recurring state investments in teacher training in reading, the leaders called for North Carolina policymakers to maintain and even expand funding for pre-K access in the state and to eventually accomplish the goal of enrolling 75 percent of the state’s pre-K-eligible children, and to ensure that every county hits that benchmark.
The state currently funds pre-K programs at about $154 million per year.
Fred Whitfield, president and vice chairman of Hornets Sports & Entertainment, noted that about 9,100 fewer children enrolled in North Carolina pre-K for the 2020-2021 school year compared with the previous school year, eliminating all of the enrollment gains made in the state over the last four years.
Before COVID, enrollment in the state’s pre-K had topped 31,000 children — about 50 percent of the children eligible for the program statewide, he said. Now, pre-K programs in the state are serving only 36 percent of eligible children.
A Big Focus on Pre-K
“The drop in enrollment should not be viewed as a decrease in demand or need for North Carolina pre-K,” Whitfield said. “To the contrary, although we have much to overcome, this proven high-quality program, targeted at some of our most at-risk children, is needed now, more than ever.”
In addition to calling for more support for pre-K, the business leaders are asking state officials to inflation-adjust North Carolina’s pre-K funding for the first time in nine years, to require an annual such inflation adjustment, and to modify county-state cost sharing percentages to help economically disadvantaged counties cover program costs, Whitfield said.
During their presentation, the business leaders cited a 2016 CEO action plan to support improved U.S. literacy rates put forward by Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs at leading U.S. companies.
North Carolina business leaders were inspired by the action plan to initiate several pro-education initiatives, including creation of a comprehensive aligned education system for grades pre-K-3, as well as launching a data methodology to ensure that children stay on track to achieve reading proficiency, said Dale Jenkins, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based medical malpractice insurance provider Curi.
A “robust data system” is scheduled to roll out later this year, Jenkins said.
In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly formed the Birth through Third Grade, or B-3, Interagency Council, which is a joint council between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
The goal of the effort was to create a vision for a birth through 3rd-grade system of early education, and a system of accountability tied to it, including standards and assessment, data-driven improvement and outcomes, and teacher and administrator preparation and effectiveness.
“We’ve made progress on these goals through the B-3 Interagency Council that was created in 2017 to address these issues among others,” Jenkins said. “We applaud the General Assembly and the governor for moving this forward together.”
The EdTech Genome Project aims to give districts more accurate, granular comparisons of what ed-tech products work in what kinds of schools.
These divides have gotten even worse during the pandemic, and COVID-19-related school closures are likely to raise the learning poverty rate by another 10 percent, Saavedra said.
Data through early March show that 51 countries have fully returned to in-person education, and that in over 90 countries, students are being instructed through multiple modes, with some schools open, others closed, and many offering hybrid learning options, an announcement by the organizations states.
Researchers from the World Bank, Johns Hopkins, and UNICEF each have subsets of countries for which they’re responsible for compiling data, which is gleaned from publicly available sources, including government data and news sources, said Megan Collins, a bioethicist, pediatric ophthalmologist and professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University, who is also a leader of the education recovery tracker project.
Information gleaned from news stories needs to be accompanied by at least one other source for validation, she said.
After researchers gather the data, on a bimonthly basis, the team looks through and validates the data, after which researchers answer survey questions intended to decipher the status of school reopenings and the prioritization of groups considered more vulnerable to contracting the disease, such as teachers, Collins said.
“The survey is broken down into, ‘Are schools in the country open or closed right now? Are teachers being vaccinated as a priority group? Yes or no,” Collins said.
“’If schools are in person, what types of learning modalities are being employed? If schools are virtual, what types of learning modalities are being employed?’”
As of March 24, the U.S., Australia, Japan, Germany, and Argentina, were among the major education markets whose schools were operating with a combination of in-person, hybrid, remote, and closed classrooms.
Fully Open Schools in Russia, France, Spain
Meanwhile, the major markets of Brazil, Mexico, India, Sweden, Norway, and Saudi Arabia were either combining remote and in-person instruction and/or their students were exclusively learning remotely.
The U.K., Russia, France, Spain, and Ethiopia, were among the countries where schools are fully open and students have returned for in-person instruction.
“Institutions like the World Bank are helping developing countries’ education systems by providing the evidence to understand where investments are likely to be most impactful,” World Bank Education Global Practice senior operations officer Kali Azzi-Huck and World Bank senior education specialist Tigran Shmis said in an email.
“This tracker helps us to gather critical data and provide advice on country policies to tackle learning loss and accelerate learning in countries.”
Many education companies in recent years have taken a growing interest in exploring international markets outside their home countries. Those ambitions have been fueled by several factors, including the ease of delivering products and services via ed tech, rising income levels in developing nations, and the hunger for new forms of online learning during the pandemic.
Another resource released by the World Bank, Johns Hopkins and UNICEF, shows country-by-country school status/education modality, along with whether that country has authorized COVID-19 vaccines and whether teachers are currently being vaccinated as a priority group.
One revealing takeaway from the tracker is that teachers in low- and middle-income countries are largely not being vaccinated against COVID-19, and that two-thirds of the 130 countries where vaccine information was available are not currently vaccinating teachers as a priority group.
A few of the challenges that the organizations have faced when standing up and updating this resource include the lag between the time of data collection and publication, mostly due to the breadth and complexity of the data; as well as the inability to get granular data, Collins said.
The tracker is “an amazing opportunity to look at what’s happening globally,” she said. “But it certainly does not have the capabilities to dive down to the level of what’s happening for fourth graders living in a certain district of a certain school system in India.”
Collins said Johns Hopkins has been “uniquely positioned” to provide information during the pandemic, noting that her Hopkins team that is working on the tracker organically formed a year ago to think about ways to help children, initially releasing a tracker looking at school reopenings in the U.S.
“For kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, they’re going to be impacted much more severely,” she said.
“As we’ve had schools thinking about reopening or recovery, what are the students going to need, and what are students going to need the most? [We’ve been] doing issue-spotting, hopefully for educators and policymakers to think about providing the actual resources that are needed.”
Guidelines released by the influential group CASEL place an emphasis on programs and products supporting equity, and whether materials are developmentally appropriate for students.
An EdWeek Market Brief survey asked district officials what kinds of strategies they anticipate using to take on student academic losses during the pandemic — the so-called “COVID slide.”