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Following For-Profit Providers (IV): Industry Segments

With thousands of firms and more programs, it’s hard to understand and monitor the emerging forest called the school improvement industry. It’s relatively easy to watch one tree. Appreciating a part of the forest – a segment of the industry, falls somewhere in between.

As with all industries, it can be a challenge to identify where one part of the forest - say elementary reading, leaves off and another - like Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) picks up. Sometimes a stand is dominated by a handful of Giant Sequoias overshadowing a thousand saplings, as in textbook publishing. Most territories – Supplemental Educational Services (SES) and professional development, for example, consist of hundreds of trees, growing but still immature.

The best way to build an understanding of the industry is to start somewhere and work your way out. In the end, all market segments are part of one k-12 value chain. I started with charter schools and CSR, which led to Education management Organizations (EMOs), professional development, texts and other content, technology, curriculum and instructional strategies, and on and on. Start with what you know or, if you are an educator looking to fill an educational gap, with what you need.

There are four sources of information on industry segments.

Google is the first. Type in the name, e.g., “supplemental educational services” and see what comes up. It’s the online equivalent of walking into the stacks at the library, going to the appropriate Dewey Decimal number and seeing what’s there. Use the phrase to sign up for a Google news alert. Use some discretion in choosing the general internet and news sources you will rely on, but sample as much as you can.

Third parties often survey market segments. These are a shortcut to the list of providers you need to appreciate the stand. In the first posting I noted several examples. The author(s) may well have a point of view on the segment, and that at least helps you get at the issues as well as the players. Sometimes government will provide you a list. State education agencies often have lists of charter schools and must have lists of firms approved to provide Supplemental Educational Services.

Program evaluations styled as consumer handbooks offer another source.
The North West Regional Educational Laboratory produced a users guide for CSR. The What Works Clearinghouse publishes Topic Reports covering a variety of educational programs. Program guides lead researchers to the segments providers.

School improvement industry trade groups offer a crude guide to market segments and generally identify their members. Their most valuable feature is their identification of a segment's positions on the issues. The National Council of Education Providers represents EMOs. Historically, a majority of Education Industry Association members have been involved in tutoring, which now encompasses SES. The Software and Information Industry Association Education Division, represents digital instructional and student information services. The makeup of the Association of Educational Publishers and the American Association of Publishers School Division is self-explanatory

The purpose of these postings has been to suggest that it's not impossible to get started on understanding the real supply side of school improvement. I hope you’ll follow up - especially you eduwonks.

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