K-12 Dealmaking: Imagine Learning Acquires Winsor Learning to Launch New Special Needs Offerings

Staff Writer
K-12 dealmaking

Imagine Learning is launching a new effort to address the literacy needs of students with learning disabilities — and it has acquired an established player in the space to lay the foundation for that strategy.

Winsor Learning is a Minnesota-based provider of supplemental literacy products meant to align to the science of reading and develop foundational skills.

With the acquisition, Imagine Learning aims to digitize Winsor Learning’s largely print-based materials, and build a suite of offerings around them to create Imagine Ascend, a new product for special education students, Imagine CEO Jonathan Grayer told EdWeek Market Brief in an interview.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Grayer said the company was driven to acquire Winsor and create Ascend to address learning gaps students are facing, citing statistics that show 15 percent to 20 percent of students in the U.S. are affected by dyslexia.

Students are still struggling with reading in the wake of pandemic-related learning delays, as well, he said, pointing to recent National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, which showed that roughly two-thirds of 4th graders in the nation are not proficient readers.

Imagine Learning’s acquisition is a response to districts who have asked for targeted resources for special needs populations, CEO Jonathan Grayer says.

School districts across the country are struggling with how to address “learning loss” that has come into stark focus over the past few years. They face the challenge of determining how to assess the needs of learners who have fallen far behind, and how they can target recovery efforts through a mix of online and in-person tutoring, summer and after-school programs, and other interventions.

The federal government has backed those efforts with a massive amount of money — channeling roughly $190 billion into school systems, with a big portion of it directed at unfinished learning.

“We became more and more interested in being better at being able to equip teachers and administrators, who are dealing with these rising numbers of students [struggling with reading],” Grayer said.

“That’s why our search for the right partner and the right company to buy led us to Winsor. We really love their program.”

Imagine Learning was formed in November 2021 when Weld North Education brought together its product brands under the Imagine Learning umbrella, including Edgenuity, LearnZillion, StudySync, and Twig Education.

The parent company is backed by a partnership of private equity firms, Onex and Silver Lake. Under Grayer’s direction, Imagine Learning has moved aggressively to make a series of acquisitions and now describes itself as the largest provider of digital curriculum in the U.S., serving 10 million students.

Winsor, founded in 1997, offers literacy intervention for dyslexic and at-risk students through the Orton-Gillingham Approach, as well as a line of pre-K-12 literacy materials designed to support multi-sensory reading called the Sonday System.

While Winsor has some digital supports, Grayer said it’s still largely print-based, and over the course of the next three years, Imagine aims to build an integrated, digital-first product around Winsor’s materials to expand its reach and availability.

In a statement, Winsor Learning CEO Amanda Burnette said the deal will accelerate the company’s “commitment to serve more students all across the country.”

Winsor Learning is “thrilled to join a team who shares our philosophy and has the incredible reputation and respect that Imagine Learning holds in the education space.”

Fifteen percent of students in U.S. public schools were served under the Individuals with Disabilities Act in the 2020-2021 school year, an increase of 13 percent over the last decade, Imagine Learning said in a statement announcing the deal.

The company said Imagine Ascend will combine digital courseware with “highly qualified” online instructors.

The acquisition is a response to Imagine Learning having heard from school districts it works with that there is a pressing need to address the needs of students with disabilities in particular, even as districts wrestle with unfinished learning in the overall population, Grayer said.

“The special education market today is severely fragmented, served by dozens of companies that fail to connect the dots and offer an integrated solution,” he said.

The newly formed products will curate “the best available curriculum to create a platform of intervention solutions.”

Virtual tutoring provider raises $10M. Ignite! Reading, a virtual tutoring provider, closed a $10 million Series A funding round, the company announced.  

The round was led by Rethink Education, with participation from Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin, along with founding or current partners of Comcast Ventures, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Emergence Capital, Hellman & Friedman, and Wing Venture Capital in their individual capacities.  

The funding will be used to expand the company’s leadership team and invest in its platform in order to scale nationwide, according to the announcement. The company currently reports serving students in 35 schools across seven states. 

Ignite provides 15 minutes of one-on-one virtual reading tutoring each day for students in grades 1-8, with tutors who follow Science of Reading training.  

“Ignite is making it easy for schools to implement the Science of Reading-based literacy instruction states now require,” Co-Founder Evan Marwell said in a statement. “Schools love that Ignite enables them to immediately shore up students’ foundational reading skills gaps without waiting for the lengthy change management process needed to retrain teachers and switch curriculum.” 

SEL provider makes second acquisition in 2023. Social-emotional learning curriculum provider 7 Mindsets has acquired xSEL Labs, a social and emotional assessment provider.  

This marks 7 Mindsets’ second acquisition since the start of the year, coming days after the company announced acquiring the mental health and SEL platform BASE Education. 

Terms of both deals were not disclosed. 

Based in Roswell, Ga., 7 Mindsets focuses on what it describes as mindsets-based SEL programs for school districts, including a pre-K-12 curriculum and professional development and coaching.  

The acquisition of xSEL Labs will strengthen 7 Mindsets’ use of assessment to offer teachers insights into their students’ skills and help them identify areas for improvement or targeted interventions, according to the announcement. The combination of acquisitions sets the company up to be a “comprehensive” SEL solution for schools, the company said. 

“Today SEL is embedded into the work of school districts more than ever before,” 7 Mindsets CEO Mark Belles said in a statement. “It’s critical we continue helping district administrators provide comprehensive social and emotional learning solutions for all members of their school communities.” 

Consulting nonprofits merge. Education Board Partners, a nonprofit that helps public charter schools build diverse and effective governing boards, announced it will merge to join the strategic advising nonprofit Bellwether.  

The merger will happen “early this year” and support Bellwether’s efforts to grow its academic and program strategy services for schools, according to the announcement.

“We often hear from education leaders that board governance deserves greater focus across the sector — and this partnership positions Bellwether to help make that happen,” said Bellwether Senior Partner Rebecca Gifford Goldberg in a statement. 

Founded in 2010 as Charter Board Partners, EBP reports having worked with 650 boards serving a total of 200,000 students. In the same time period, Bellwether says it has worked with more than 600 schools, districts, and charters, among others. 

EBP co-founder and CEO Carrie Irvin will become a senior advisor for Bellwether, leading governance work. And the company’s board chair, Charles Hooper, will join the Bellwether board.  

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