Opportunities, and Stigmas, Abound in K-12 Marketplace, Speaker Notes

Senior Editor

Scottsdale, Ariz.

The opportunities for investing in K-12 technologies and products are rich, varied, and booming, an authority on the market argued here today—and with those opportunities has come the backlash.

Michael Moe, the chairman of GSV Capital & GSV Assessment Management, a keynote speaker at this education-business conference, offered his view of the landscape for investors in educational technology and other products.

It’s one that is surging in large part because of the shift away from a “top-down” decisionmaking model directed mostly from the federal and state level, to one that has flipped and now allows products to be tested among tech-savvy students, as well as teachers, and potentially get ramped up fairly quickly.

“The ability to go from idea to scale is occurring faster than ever in this market,” Moe told attendees at the ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit.
One of the “mega-trends” Moe sees playing out in the K-12 market is likely to continue to grow as technology allows for the collection of ever more precise data. The flow of reliable, timely information will benefit developers and others who focus on “continuous improvement” in classrooms, rather than merely specific, end-point targets.

The market is also ripe for various forms of personalized learning that allows students to pick and choose courses, and even schools, that suit their interests, at their own pace, he added.

The heightened interest of investors in the K-12 market is evident from the ASU/GSV conference’s metrics, Moe pointed out. The number of attendees has nearly quadrupled since 2010, and the number of sponsors and presenting companies has also soared.

Moe also sought to knock down what he considers a major impediment to investment and entrepreneurship in schools—the idea that a company or investor seeking “great financial returns,” cannot also benefit schools.

The ultimate standard for any education company or organization—for-profit or nonprofit—is its ability to produce a “return on education,” as judged by improved academic achievement and other means, Moe told Education Week after his presentation.

As anyone familiar with K-12 issues knows, many educators and school administrators are deeply skeptical of the private-sector’s involvement in schools (for a taste of that skepticism, see the reader comments on Edweek stories and blogs when we write about public-private sector issues).

Much of that anger, by my reckoning, seems directed at the private-sector’s management of schools, rather than the development of specific curricular and other products. Regardless, Moe argued the public vs. private question in the K-12 context is largely unproductive and off-base.

“It’s nothing short of bizarre that people get into these arguments that have nothing to do with whether a product is good or bad,” Moe said. “We need to get rid of these false debates and focus on what really matters,” which is improving schools.

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