Of That

Brandt Redd on Education, Technology, Energy, and Trust

07 March 2019

A Support System for High-Performing Schools

Arrows representing systems integration.

Charter schools operated by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) tend to outperform other charter schools and public schools. The National Study of Charter Management Organization Effectiveness from 2011 was the first rigorous study of CMO effectiveness and it showed that CMO-operated schools were better than other options. A 2017 study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that students enrolled in CMO-operated schools in New York City substantially outperformed their peers in conventional public schools and independent charter schools.

This improvement is to be expected. A basic premise of CMO operations is to study what works, and carry successful practices to other schools in the network.

Some conventional public schools are following a similar pattern. Their solution providers don't necessarily manage the school, like a CMO would. Instead, providers offer an integrated set of services backed by an evidence-driven theory of effective teaching. Here is the ecosystem I expect to emerge in the next few years:

  • Component and Curriculum Suppliers
  • Educational Solution Providers
  • Schools (and other learning institutions)

This same basic model applies to primary, secondary, and higher education though large universities and big districts have the capacity to be their own solution providers. Let's look at the components:

Schools, Districts, and other Learning Institutions

The school is where the teaching and learning occurs. It's where the supply chain of standards, curriculum, educational training, assessments, learning science, and everything else finally meets the student.

Many schools are implementing the same kinds of programs as charters: online curricula, blended learning, teacher dashboards, etc. But the complexity of integration grows exponentially with the number of components to combine. Building an integrated whole is beyond the capacity of most schools and all but the largest districts. The same pattern exists in higher education. Large universities can deliver an integrated solution but community colleges have a harder time.

Component and Curriculum Suppliers

On the supply side, there's a rich, complex, and rapidly growing market of component and curriculum suppliers. They include conventional textbook publishers, online curriculum developers, assessment providers, Learning Management Systems (LMS), Student Information Systems (SIS), and more.

Beyond these well-defined categories there's a host of other components, each designed to address a particular need in the educational economy. For example, Learnosity builds tools for creating and embedding high-quality assessments. Gooru offers a learning map, helping students know where they are in their learning progression. EdConnective offers live, virtual coaching for teachers. In 2018, education technology investment grew to a record $5.23 billion in the U.S. and a breathtaking $16.34 billion worldwide. We can expect many more components and materials to be produced from that level of investment.

Many of these components are raw - requiring significant integration effort before they can become part of an integrated learning solution. Despite this, developers of these components attempt to sell them directly to schools, districts, and states.

Educational Solution Providers

Summit Public Schools is a CMO that consistently achieves high rankings. Summit Learning also offers their online curriculum to public schools. But, separating the curriculum from the balance of the solution hasn't been so successful. In November 2018, Brooklyn students held a walkout and parents created a website to protest "Mass Customized Learning." It's not that the materials were bad; they were well-proven in other contexts. But, separated from the balance of the Summit program the student experience suffered.

An important new category in the education supply chain are Educational Solution Providers. CMOs belong to this category but solution providers to conventional schools don't take over management like a CMO would. Rather, they provide an integrated set of services that includes training and coaching for staff and leadership.

The best solution providers start with an evidence-based learning theory. They then assemble a comprehensive solution based on the theory and selected from the rich menu provided by the component market. A complete solution includes:

  • Training and Coaching Services
  • Professional Development
  • Curriculum (conventional or online)
  • Assessment (ideally curriculum-embedded)
  • Secure Student Data Systems with Educator Dashboards
  • Effectiveness Measures
  • Continuous Improvement

An important job for solution providers is to integrate the components so that they work seamlessly together in support of their learning theory. Training and professional development should embody the same theory that is being expressed to the students. LMS, SIS, dashboards, and all other online systems should function together as one solution even if the provider is sourcing the components from an array of suppliers. In order to do this, the solution provider must have their own curriculum experts for the content side and a talented technology staff focused on systems integration.

Players in this nascent category include The Achievement Network, CLI Solutions Group, and The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. I think we can expect new entrants in the next few years. Successful CMOs may also cross over to providing services to conventional public schools.


The educational component and curriculum market is rich and rapidly growing with record levels of investment. But, schools don't have the capacity to integrate these components effectively and they need a guiding theory to underpin the selection of components and how they are to be integrated. The emerging category of Educational Solution Provider fills an important role in the ecosystem.

Are you aware of other existing or emerging solution providers? Please let me know in the comments!