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Inside the Florida K-12 Market: District Priorities and Pain Points

EdWeek Market Brief, Florida Special Re

Many states have taken a cautious approach to reopening schools for in-person instruction during the pandemic. Florida was much more ambitious.

The vast majority of school districts across the nation’s third most populous state were required by the state’s department of education to offer an in-person learning option at the beginning of the academic year. That meant the state’s 67 main, county-based districts were tasked with finding a way to serve not only families who wanted face-to-face instruction, but also those who chose online instruction at home.

As such, Florida’s experiences offer a preview of what an increasing number of school districts around the country are now going through, as they transition into more fully in-person and hybrid instructional models. A new special report, available exclusively to EdWeek Market Brief members, provides education companies and other organizations keen on working in Florida with an in-depth look at the biggest needs that the state’s 67 school districts face, as they continue to straddle the brick-and-mortar and online learning worlds.

Through our reporting and analysis, readers will learn about Florida school systems’ hunger for academic interventions and other strategies to address learning loss, and their need to bolster the well-being of students whose emotional states have been made fragile by the upheaval of COVID-19.

Readers will get districts’ perspectives on the massive scale of their device purchasing over the past year, and prevailing worries about lackluster internet connectivity in students’ homes. And they will learn about the pressure Florida districts face to implement new state academic standards — and to scaffold myriad instructional materials, assessments, and professional development for teachers on top of those standards.

This special report is the final installment in a three-part series on state markets that have enormous importance for companies in the K-12 market. The first two reports focused on Texas and California. This report, like the others, includes original research drawn from surveys of Florida K-12 officials. But the heart of the analysis is interviews EdWeek Market Brief’s editorial team conducted with key district administrators, including superintendents and their top deputies, curriculum directors, finance officials, and others.

Student Engagement, Standards, and Remediation

The Florida report includes perspectives of district officials like Robert Bixler, the associate superintendent for curriculum and digital learning in the Orange County school system, based in Orlando.

Bixler explains how his district began turning its attention to students’ anticipated learning loss as early as last summer, offering targeted academic programs and focusing on students thought to be most vulnerable, particularly in elementary grades.

Since then, the 212,000-student district has been exploring strategies for remediation that can be delivered in a variety of in-person and online settings.

“You are always concerned about the kids who are most at risk and what they’re missing in school,” Bixler said. “We’re all trying to find ways to meet their needs–with intervention, tutoring, all those things.”

Among the other insights offered in the report:

  • Survey data collected from Florida K-12 officials about their top academic priorities over the next year – which include both instructional and non-academic needs.
  • Perspective on the key factors that will drive Florida district officials’ decisions on selection and purchasing of curriculum and other academic resources to align with new state academic standards.
  • Details on the current blend of in-person vs. remote instruction in Florida districts, and their plans for offering summer instruction focused on learning loss.
  • The results of in-depth interviews with district officials from across the state about their biggest needs from vendors, the state policies shaping their work, how they plan to spend federal funding.

Another major school system highlighted in the report, the Palm Beach County district, is – like many in Florida — trying to navigate two different worlds, with about 50 percent of its students taking classes in person, and remainder working remotely.

Teachers have found “unbelievable and inspiring” ways to help students and encourage them to think creatively in online settings, particularly through technology, said Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Schools Keith Oswald.

But the 193,000-student district needs more innovation and flexibility from education companies, to keep students locked in no matter what their learning environment.

“Engagement has been our number-one priority,” he said. Every day the district looks for “little things that can enhance how [tech] is used in this environment,” and vendors who can “enhance what students do in a distance learning space.”

EdWeek Market Brief members can access the report here.

Image by Getty

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Inside the California K-12 Market: District Priorities and Pain Points

Inside California's K-12 Market: A Special Report

California’s school districts have taken a go-it-slow approach to reopening in-person, compared to some other states. It’s just one of the factors shaping the education market in the nation’s most populous state, which is the subject of a penetrating new EdWeek Market Brief special report.

District officials across California are under acute pressure to deliver distance learning that will engage students and satisfy families, given the uncertainty about when schools will return to face-to-face learning in classrooms.

That uncertainty persists despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s urging that schools across the state, which serve 6.3 million students, make the switch to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

Administrators and educators in the state are also trying to navigate students’ social-emotional needs and overall well-being, which educators fear have been shaken by the pandemic.

Those are just some of the themes that EdWeek Market Brief explores in the report, the second in a three-part series on critical education markets for K-12 companies. The first installment focused on Texas, and the report to follow will delve into Florida.

This report, like the others in the series, is based heavily on in-depth interviews EdWeek Market Brief conducted with district officials about their pressing academic and spending priorities and what they want from vendors in the months and years to come.

It includes David Saleh Rauf’s top story guiding readers through district demands. It features an “In Their Own Voices” section in which we allow our readers to hear from California K-12 officials directly about their most urgent challenges. And it offers the results of state-specific surveys of California district officials conducted by the EdWeek Research Center.

The report offers insights from district leaders like Michael Matsuda, superintendent at the 30,000-student Anaheim Union High School District. He speaks to the pressures he and his peers around the state face to not only craft academic strategies to help students during remote learning, but also to find ways to help a “whole generation that is traumatized” by the events that have played out over the last 11 months.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of districts that are focused on just jamming content down students’ throats because they’re behind,” Matsuda told EdWeek Market Brief.

“While there is a need to address learning loss, it’s really about how we build resilience for this entire generation. So a lot of our resources are going to go into social workers and counselors and school psychologists, and a retraining of our teaching staff on dealing with this.”

The report brings revealing insights on key issues affecting the California K-12 market, including:

  • New survey data about where California district officials expect to spend the most or the least over the next year, in areas such as social-emotional learning, curriculum, PD, learning management and student information systems, and parent-communication tools.
  • Perspectives on how state policies – such as the budget, and decisions about remote vs. in-person learning – are going to play out over the next year and affect district priorities.
  • Survey data on which elements of Local Control Accountability Plans – key blueprints laying out California local district priorities – K-12 leaders expect companies seeking to do business with them to pay the most attention to.
  • Insights on the extent to which California districts are going “off-list” and straying from state adoption guidelines in purchasing curriculum.

EdWeek Market Brief’s members can access the full report here.

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An Inside Look at the Texas Education Market

EdWeek Market Brief special report -- Inside the Texas Education Market

Texas, which has more than 1,200 school districts serving 5 million students, has long been seen by education businesses as providing particularly bountiful opportunities, because of its size, the role that the state plays in decision-making around curriculum, and its relatively large districts.

In a new special report, EdWeek Market Brief helps its members make sense of the sprawling market, through in-depth reporting, research, and analysis.

The core of the report is built on hours of interviews our editorial team conducted with district administrators from across the state, delving into their school systems’ academic and spending priorities over the next year, how they’re responding to the chaos wrought by COVID-19, and what’s next.

Those interviews form the basis of Brian Bradley’s top story, as well as a “District Voices” section in
which we let our readers hear directly from Texas K-12 officials about their hopes and concerns.

In addition, we present the results of state-specific surveys of Texas district officials conducted by the EdWeek Research Center on K-12 systems’ biggest priorities, and what they expect from companies.

Many common themes emerge — around devices, connectivity, state mandates squeezing local needs, and about pandemic-era priorities that will carry well into the future.

This report is the first of a three-part series that EdWeek Market Brief is producing on key state markets, to be followed by breakdowns of the state of play in California and Florida.

The first installment features insights from our detailed interviews with Texas superintendents, deputy superintendents, district chief financial officers and other decision-makers. They describe a market in which districts’ academic and budgetary plans have been re-set by the pandemic, creating a new order of buying needs and goals in some areas, while reinforcing their commitment to existing strategic plans in others.

One Texas district official we interviewed said she did not expect the budget pressures her K-12 system is facing to abate anytime soon.

The “budget is bleeding,” she said. “We’re going to try to cut back where the least amount hits the classroom.”

Even so, her district, like many is now looking for products and strategies to address the anticipated learning loss that has come about since last spring.

“We have to get back in the groove” she said, “and try to reach out to those students and get them on board, improve the student outcomes, prepare them for college and career and military readiness.”

Another Texas district official spoke about the pandemic has increased his district’s hunger for online learning for the foreseeable future. We will “continue [to look for] curriculum and all the programs for virtual learning for however long we have to do that,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight right now.”

The report offers critical insights on many issues affecting the Texas market, including:

  • New survey data about where Texas officials expect to see their district spending the most or least over the next year, in areas such as social-emotional learning, curriculum, PD, learning management and student information systems, and parent-communication tools.
  • Data on the mix of districts engaged in remote, hybrid- or in-person learning across the state.
  • Interviews and survey data on the impact that the historic state education law, House Bill 3, is having in district spending plans over the next few years.
  • Intel on which sources of funding – federal, state, local, and grants – districts expect to increase or decline over the coming year, and how that movement will affect their spending ability.
  • The voices of Texas district leaders, talking about their spending plans, the pressures they face, how COVID has reshaped their work, and what they need from vendors, in their own words.

And more.

EdWeek Market Brief members can download the full report here.

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