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Sales of K-12 Instructional Materials Soaring, New Industry Estimates Show

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.

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Learning Loss During COVID Will Fuel Economic Losses, Business Leaders Predict

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.”

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Why Do Ed-Tech Products Soar in Some Districts, But Flop in Others?

DigitalVision Vectors/Getty

The EdTech Genome Project aims to give districts more accurate, granular comparisons of what ed-tech products work in what kinds of schools.

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‘Global Education Recovery Tracker’ Offers Country-by-Country Status on School Reopening

Johns Hopkins University, World Bank & UNICEF (2021). COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker. Last updated as of 24 March 2021. Baltimore, Washington DC, New York: JHU, World Bank, UNICEF.

Three organizations with a major focus on education have developed a tool that tracks and displays school reopening and recovery planning efforts in over 200 countries and territories.

The World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, and UNICEF have unveiled the COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker.

The online database breaks countries into six reopening categories: in-person education; hybrid/remote education; combination of in-person, hybrid, remote, and closed; schools closed due to a regular school calendar closure; completely closed; and, unknown status/data not available.

The tracker also includes U.S. state-by-state and country-by-country information on the status of vaccine availability for teachers.

“The world was facing a learning crisis before COVID-19,” World Bank Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra said in a statement. “The learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low- and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent for high-income countries.”

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.”

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How New Data-Privacy Expectations Could Impact Education Companies

State laws affecting the deletion of student information and other practices can have a big impact on education companies, says Tyler Park of the Future of Privacy Forum.

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Global Spending on Virtual Reality, AI in Education Poised to Skyrocket, Report Says

Global spending on artificial and virtual reality in education is expected to soar from $1.8 billion to $12.6 billion annually over the next four years, a new analysis projects.

Spending on artificial intelligence in education, meanwhile, will jump from $800 million to $6.1 billion yearly over that same period, according to the report released recently by HolonIQ, a global research and intelligence firm.

The report made several projections for global ed-tech expenditures in K-12, higher education, and corporate training through 2025. Those include forecasts of total education spending, upskilling, spending on digital technologies as a proportion of total education spending, and venture capital investment.

“AR/VR is coming down the stack from workforce into higher ed, and is slowly making its way into K-12,” Patrick Brothers, the co-CEO and co-founder of HolonIQ, said in an interview.

Augmented and virtual reality has seen only modest uptake yet in K-12 because there’s a big learning curve for students and teachers to become familiar with the technologies, and because their use will take some time to catch on, he said.

Other areas of advanced technology figure to see significant growth in expenditures through 2025, include robotics and blockchain, according to the report. It projects that the total spent on robotics will rise from $1.3 billion in 2018 to $3.1 billion in 2025, and that the total spent on blockchain will rise from $100 million in 2018 to $600 million in 2025.

HolonIQ
HolonIQ

The biggest driver for the use of blockchain in education is a desire for secure and scalable credentialing, while the biggest spark behind the use of robotics in education is schools looking for different ways to engage learners in STEM fields, Brothers said.

HolonIQ forecasts overall global spending on ed-tech to rise from $227 billion in 2020 to $404 billion in 2025.

Currently, spending on digital technologies makes up just 3.6 percent of total expenditures in the areas of K-12, higher ed, and corporate training. In 2025, that percentage is expected to rise to a higher but still small level of 5.2 percent of overall spending.

“While the longer term impact of COVID-19 on education models is yet to play out, over the next few years we expect an upswing of spending on digital infrastructure in education and greater spending over the long term in new digital models,” the report states.

HolonIQ defines spending in the report as governments, companies, and consumers devoting money to a learning product or service. That distinguishes it from education investments, which are characterized by the supplying of capital in exchange for a stake in a company, Brothers said.

The report also notes that global ed-tech venture capital funding has risen from its previous record of $8.2 billion in 2018 to $16.1 billion in 2020, with Chinese companies occupying the largest share of funding compared with other countries.

Investment in educationwill continue to grow, but is not evenly spread across the globe and weighted heavily towards late-stage mega-rounds,” the report says.

Chinese ed-tech companies saw $26.8 billion in venture capital investment between 2010 and 2020, while U.S. companies saw $13 billion invested in the same period.

Overall, HolonIQ projects that total global education spending will rise from an estimated total of $5.4 trillion in 2020 to a total of $7.3 trillion in 2025, noting that education composes over 6 percent of global GDP.

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Biden Executive Order Could Shed Light on District Needs During COVID

Joe Biden signing executive orders

A presidential executive order tasking the U.S. Department of Education to collect data to inform K-12 school reopenings could provide companies across the market with a window into districts’ most urgent needs.

Data on attendance, funding priorities, public and charter school enrollment, teacher vaccination rates, assessment scores, and learning loss were among the areas that education advocates and company officials interviewed by EdWeek Market Brief said they would like to see the department collect when it implements the directives of the Jan. 21 executive order.

Among other things, the executive order instructs the Secretary of Education to coordinate with the department’s director of the Institute of Education Sciences to facilitate collection of “data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.”

The order calls for consultation with students, educators, unions, families, and state and local officials.

It would be difficult to glean a nationally representative sample of districts as they address challenges posed by the coronavirus, but the forthcoming data could help vendors improve their offerings to better fit district needs, said Reg Leichty, a founding partner of the education consulting group Foresight Law+Policy.

For example, detailed information on absentee rates and anticipated learning losses in reading, math, and other areas, could help companies better support teachers and students, he said.

“If we’re able to gather data about why students aren’t attending school, and it turns out to be something like broadband connectivity — which we know to be a problem — basically that’s a signal to companies that provide those services” that schools need what they’re offering.

In collecting attendance and assessment data, it will be important to pull in granular information about the student’s learning setting—whether it be virtual or in person—and to correlate those data with that student’s assessment scores, said Angela Jerabek, executive director of the BARR Center, a company that trains school staffs on relationship-building and school-level data collection and contextualization.

If the Biden administration can correlate those two data points, it will help contextualize the factors behind students’ learning progression or regression, she said.

Before IES collects the data, the agency will have to provide federal notice of its intent to survey states for new information.

Once IES provides notice, the federal comment period can take 30-60 days, meaning it could be at least a month after today before the education department starts collecting data.

Spending Needs, Other Than PPE

Kate Topping, vice president of marketing and communications at NWEA, said she would like to see the department collect data on public K-12 enrollment declines as well as charter school enrollment.

One big question is whether the rising interest in charters and private schools during COVID will continue, or whether parents have been sending their kids to these institutions merely because that was the only way to ensure their children would receive in-person instruction, Topping said.

It would also be helpful to know how increased spending on cleaning products for districts, across the board, may have diminished their ability to spend in other areas, she said.

NWEA did its own analysis of district funding priorities, and hand sanitizer, Wi-Fi hot spots, and student devices were all near the top of the list, Topping said.

“Those are the basic needs,” she said, “and then what will they take beyond that?”

In addition to instructional data, data on staff health records such as vaccination rates will be critical to collect, as policymakers weigh the factors necessary to reopen schools, Leichty said.

“Both sets of data are going to be important for administrators and their educators to not only run their schools,” Leichty said, “but also target instruction in a way that…helps support students through this period.”

Photo: President Joe Biden signs an executive order in the state dining room at the White House, one of many he has signed, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Non-Education Companies Jumping Into K-12 Market During Pandemic

Education companies that either weren’t involved in education at all, or had narrower interest in it, are finding ways to serve the market during COVID-19.

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District Leaders’ Biggest Unmet Data Needs

An EdWeek Market Brief survey reveals that district administrators see many shortcomings in the data they have available to them, and in their ability to use it.

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