eLearning continues to expand as a powerful teaching tool. Just four years ago, Hardeep Gulati took the helm of PowerSchool. The company labels itself as the “first web-based student information system.”
PowerSchool employed a staff of around 400 when Gulati took over. As of November 2019, the organization operates with a team of over 1,950 professionals, including managers, technical support, directors, software engineers, and recruiters.
The size of the organization itself isn’t the only thing that’s grown. The user base includes 45 million learners across 13,000 school districts when you count the company’s flagship product as well as its Unified Classroom Special Programs, Performance Matters, Unified Talent Professional Learning, and Power School Finance/HR/ERP software.
Managing students and educators is more complicated than it used to be. There’s a high demand for educational products to help address these complexities. Software can make teaching more effective and efficient but requires successful implementation and support.
Traditional learning management systems introduced educational institutions to the value of ed tech. PowerSchool pushes to continue increasing that value by innovating and improving its products. One way it did that is by acquiring Schoology.
Schoology Begins the Next Chapter for PowerSchool
PowerSchool’s acquisition of Schoology was finalized in November 2019. The platform brought with it around 20 million users that include teachers, administration, and students.
“Bringing that together really creates a unique offering which hasn’t been done before,” explains Gulati. “Teachers now can have the benefit of all that different information and processes to be helped in creating those personalized, individual paths for each student, giving them more time back so they can focus more on instruction.”
Connectivity is one of the biggest strengths to come out of the acquisition. What was once a standalone product can now be marketed and used as an interconnected community. Combining the two markets brings together a significant market share of the K-12 age group.
Forbes educational contributor Rod Berger discussed the development with Gulati. In the conversation, he asked about the timing of the acquisition. Gulati described efforts to construct a seamless system that supplies connectivity, data, and analytics for school districts, parents, and teachers.
The PowerSchool team worked closely with Schoology co-founder Jeremy Friedman. The two companies became top partners who supported many joint customers through integration. They identified a need for more than just student information system integration. Educators and administrators also wanted solutions for assessment, professional learning, special education, and analytics.
This was the final push that encouraged PowerSchool and Schoology to take their partnership to the next level. By joining the parent company’s Unified Classroom, Schoology could provide deeper integration that would be beneficial to users. Their customers could now find additional solutions that are readily available.
A Need for Personalization in Education
Users often expressed a need for more personalization. They aren’t the only ones. The non-profit KnowledgeWorks found that 39 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans included personalized learning. A total of 17 states list it as part of their vision, while 11 states highlight the use of personalized learning strategies.
Lillian Pace, the senior director for national policy at Knowledgeworks, explained the focus on individual education.
“For the most part, states were really beginning to talk about, ‘How do we build learning-centered or student-centered systems?’ and ‘How do we advance policies focused on what each individual student needs?.”
Technology was referenced as a method of building micro-credentialing programs for teachers. The use of an online platform for professional development was also listed in ESSA plans for 14 states.
This emphasized the lack of classroom technology for personalization. Despite financing by billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, the industry still has a niche to fill.
The need hasn’t gone unnoticed by government entities. States have taken action to help transform education. Since 2012, 15 states have waived regulations, created task forces, and built innovation zones in the name of personalized learning. Lawmakers hope to make personalized education a part of the average student’s school day.
It’s a difficult task, especially considering the lack of an official definition of what personalized training should look like. The phrase generally refers to methods, curriculum, and standards that address the student’s individual strengths and weaknesses. However, those are very broad terms when discussing state-sanctioned educational regulations.
To achieve this goal, PowerSchool and Schoology have built a customized learning environment. The number of access points was expanded, allowing users to utilize different components easily. Schools can tap into the resources they need without having to search for third-party products that may not offer the level of integration they require.
An SIS That Redefines Learning Management
What is it about this acquisition that could redefine the technology schools use daily? Gulati points to connectivity. In the past, teachers would have to access different systems to complete basic tasks. They may need to log into an SIS to report attendance or generate report cards. They usually had to go to a separate platform for other activities, like reviewing student assessments.
The same goes for classrooms with special needs students. Most schools utilize a separate system for teacher training in this area. It was yet another product that staff would have to manage, and one that may offer little to no integration with the school’s other resources.
PowerSchool combines everything to allow students and teachers to find what they need without turning to separate systems. Gulati states that the holistic approach is better because all information will be right at the teacher’s fingertips, so they can invest more time in teaching instead of juggling technology.
PowerSchool Grows in the SIS Market
Schoology is only the latest acquisition made by PowerSchool. The company has been busy in recent years. They received financial backing from Vista Equity Partners, who purchased PowerSchool from Pearson for $350 back in 2015.
The firm invested hundreds of millions of dollars to bring other assets into its Unified Classroom. Those assets include Chalkable, Haiku Learning, and Sungard K-12. Each product serves as a piece to the unifying puzzle that could change the way we teach.
Gulati and Friedman, who now serves as vice president of Schoology, claim to remain committed to supporting industry open data standards, emphasizing that “interoperability will continue to be a priority.” Integration with other SIS platforms is expected in the future. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one that has already presented solutions that bridge gaps in the ed tech industry.