Earlier this month I attended two conferences, the National Dropout Prevention Network Conference (NDPN) in Louisville, KY and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) in Palm Springs, CA. Between the two shows there were hundreds of presenters (including myself), break-out sessions, panels and vendors. There were great discussions about efforts and solutions to keep kids in school and the use of technology to change the way education is delivered.
I came away completely amped up to a new level of enthusiasm with regards to the opportunity that lies before Penn Foster and our ability to help students and change the way the world learns. The proverbial "perfect storm" of market dynamics is clearly on Doppler Radar Map:
- The acceptance of blended and online learning models within K12 is just hitting the "tipping point" and will gain mainstream acceptance over the next 3-5 years. In fact, for the first time the trend in student enrollments is moving away from statewide, fully online virtual charter schools to district sponsored, blended classroom solutions involving partial online enrollments. Single course sales are increasingly becoming commoditized and price is the ultimate selection criteria.
- Collectively as a nation, America has declared that a Secondary Education student non-complete rate of 25%-30% is unacceptable. As part of America's Promise, Penn Foster is part of the solution.
- Vocational technical and CTE programs are becoming "en vogue" again. They are just beginning to receive a renewed focus and resurgence in popularity. These programs will be at the epicenter of public/private partnerships and will be where some of the real innovation in how education is delivered will take place (you can read about Career Path High, in Kaysville, Utah which was held up as an innovative model).
Penn Foster is well positioned to capitalize on these converging trends at scale, changing what education means in the 21st Century.
It is both ironic and telling to me that these two conferences and organizations remain separate. On the one hand, at NPDN, the theme was "Each student College and Career ready". These were mostly educators and social services organizations that have been on the front lines with Opportunity Youth for the past 25 years in some of the most challenged school districts in the country. They lament that, on the whole, the K-12 system does not make the learning for their students relevant to their lives, often inducing boredom. The system cannot effectively intervene for remediation, so the students become frustrated. It is really the breakdown of the family that is at the root cause of so many students dropping out " the teachers spend most of their time providing services normally provided by parents.
Ultimately, bored and frustrated students leave the system, and the downward spiral begins. There were countless stories of incredible dedication, perseverance and success to turn this situation around. However, the "solution stories" remain localized and often the success comes due to the sheer willpower and determination of the Administrators and GM's in charge of the schools and agencies (as an example you can read about one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Debra Duardo, here). The unique personalities, local politics, funding realities, and local involvement from the private sector make it very challenging to replicate these solutions at scale. Penn Foster can help to change that.
On the other hand, at iNACOL, the theme was "Powering Personalized Learning". This group is well funded by the Gates Foundation, and is at the vanguard of thinking around blended learning and competency education, which was a big theme this year. iNACOL is closely tied to the school choice/charter school movement and is helping to drive the Common Core standards into the legislative and education policy agenda.
The irony to me is that the student segment most in need of "personalized learning and competency models" were represented at the NDPN but had very little substantive consideration at iNACOL. Perhaps the NDPN Board of Directors can approach iNACOL and begin exploring if they can become a "track" or "strand" within iNACOL's 2015 conference. In fact, both conferences shared a common keynote speaker: Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director at the Center for Innovation in Education, and former Executive Director at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).