Caprice Young, CEO, KC Distance Learning

Update to former post

From a BusinessWire press release:

One of the nation’s largest providers of proprietary curriculum and online school programs for students in kindergarten through high school, announced today the all-stock acquisition of KC Distance Learning, Inc. (KCDL), a privately-held, nationally-recognized provider of distance learning programs for middle and high school students, with a newly-issued class of non-voting shares having a value of $63.1 million under the terms of the Merger Agreement.

“K12 will continue to leverage our vast experience and expertise on behalf of our customers and passionately work to ensure that every child reaches his or her full potential.”
The acquisition bolsters K12’s position as a leader in K-12 online education and a premier provider of virtual school solutions. The move adds a new line of products and services to K12’s robust offerings for public and private schools, international schools, and individual consumers. Additionally, K12® significantly increases the size of its online private school offering through the acquisition of KCDL.

“K12 is excited about the acquisition of KC Distance Learning and the opportunity to deliver a greater variety of products and services to more customers,” said Ron Packard, founder and CEO of K12 Inc. “By incorporating KCDL’s offerings into K12’s portfolio of high quality products and services, we will be able to expand our online course and virtual school program offerings to provide customers with more options and greater flexibility. This will also enable us to scale at a faster rate to meet the exploding demand from families, teachers and administrators for online learning solutions, while maintaining K12’s high standards of quality and excellence. The complementary nature of KCDL’s businesses allows us to scale these new businesses and deliver the products and services in a more cost efficient manner.”

“K12 is committed to our mission of delivering a world-class education to every child by empowering families, teachers and school administrators with excellent education programs,” said Mr. Packard. “K12 will continue to leverage our vast experience and expertise on behalf of our customers and passionately work to ensure that every child reaches his or her full potential.”

To understand the business thinking behind Caprice Young, CEO of online learning company KC Distance Learning, start with the single biggest barrier to growth for KCDL and businesses like it, which is also the single most difficult obstacle to overcome in the culture of  Education Think: “The only real one is that regulatory demands are all built around traditional classroom settings. The regulators believe the brain is in the butt,” says Caprice. Regulations and laws require that districts are paid for the number of students who spend a specific amount of time in their classrooms to achieve graduation or completion, not mastery, of a subject or a grade level.

Caprice’s company sells an online learning philosophy, as much as it sells the subject matter that goes into the online components of the courses. And a bulk of the value-add is customization.

“The secret sauce is that we are not widget sellers,” she says. “It’s really much more about getting to know the goals of the clients in terms of the learning needs of the clients and working with them.”

Each student has different abilities, and reasonable expectations brought about by interactions between their own abilities and the course subject matter. Why not move to a hybrid system that enables each student to move at their own pace and choose individual pathways to mastery?

Districts compensate on seat time, rather than the value added learning. This remains a hindrance to student achievement, because it bulks kids into groups of perceived like ability and outcomes, when personal experience with every student tells us that learning for them is the opposite.

The standardization goes further than that, to the levels of staffing and what each district prefers to offer students as lesson providers and educators.

“We are constrained by staffing rules. In some states, we have to have a certified teacher as the proctor, even though the teacher doing the online teaching is highly qualified,” says Caprice. And sometimes its not even about professional credentials. “The very best proctors are usually someone’s grandmother.”

The most beneficial thing for most students is having an instructor with “street cred,” especialy in urban schools (though Caprice allows that this is true probably anywhere).

KCDL services students in jails who are required to take classes online and onsite. “The proctors in jails are usually former inmates and did their time, got out and are working to help current inmates get a life.”

In many cases, inmate students in many cases do better than students taking online courses in other settings. This is a fact not lost on Caprice, who has tried to rally support for her online courses to some less-optimistic district staff by using it as evidence.

“But they won’t accept that as an equivalent example,” says Caprice. The teacher is really important, she says. If you want a student to really learn, even if that student normally struggles, the teacher has to have something the student recognizes in himself.

“They have to be people who have gravitas to the kids. It can be anybody, but it has to be someone who has gravitas. It has to do with the indivudality of the person, and it has to do with the situation of the student,” says Caprice.

This is a big issue. How do you get the right kinds of teachers into the inner city, where most of the achievement gap problems are located? How do you get the right people the right training, to teach the right content knowledge to the group of kids who need it the most?

Caprice says it’s through online that this has the greatest chance of happening. A young teacher teaching for the first time in an urban school district would have the benefit of a whole curriculum of great content and a master teacher by her side coaching her through all the lessons that come with becoming a great teacher.

In the future, that’s exactly what is going to happen, Caprice believes. Budget issues and a desperate need to get talented young teachers into tough urban environments will tip the scale, eventually, and probably within the next five years.

“People who are saying Clayton [Christensen, author of “Disrupting Class”] wasn’t thinking big enough are absolutely right,” she says.

A majority of principals are 45. And 45 is the year of the generational shift in technology, it’s inevitable that every single school and every single school district will be doing integrated hybrid online learning in five years. They can’t imagine doing it any other way.

We save them money. If you are principals in the more enlightened school district. Not having your kids drop out makes you money. And cost drops tremendously when you are doing it online.

I think it’s so ironic that Caprice’s prison students do better than their free “cohorts.” Sure, a prison inmate’s day is regimental. But look at what has changed. They are free in their learning. They have the kind of social interaction with people they can identify with, and they work with flexibility to get things done on their own time.

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