Corner Office: Scholastic Ed President Greg Worrell Rethinks EdTech & Consultative Services
When digital content proliferated in the education space, the learning materials and textbook industries were thrown for a loop. The widespread availability of less expensive, often free, content online forced education publishers to adapt quickly. Many K-12 and higher education publishers purchased edtech startups and invested in new software to transform themselves into technology-driven companies that provide interactive and adaptive learning experiences to students. Scholastic, for example, developed an extensive education technology division and launched a suite of digital products over the past two decades, including adaptive learning platforms Read 180 and Math 180. But in May of 2015, these products and the majority of Scholastic’s edtech business were sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It seemed that Scholastic’s edtech experiment was over.
But Greg Worrell president of Scholastic Education says the publisher has not so much moved away from edtech -- it still provides digital products like Core Clicks and D3 Libraries -- but has changed how it implements those products within schools and school districts. Today, Scholastic offers curriculum consultation, professional teacher training, and community programming that supports student learning beyond the classroom. This places Scholastic’s technology products within a larger strategy to better promote literacy and education in a community, says Worrell. “Teachers and school leaders are looking for partnerships where people can come in and not just bring individual programs, but really sit with them and help them wrestle with helping ensure that the best educational practices are being put in place, and that they are leveraging every instructional moment they have with students in the most effective way.”
The sale of the majority of Scholastic’s edtech division has enabled the publisher to place renewed focus on these far-reaching services and address the challenges of education more comprehensively. Fittingly, Scholastic has dubbed its new education initiatives Comprehensive Literacy Solutions, which launched in August 2015 prior to the school year. Now Scholastic is selling its books and products and providing education expertise using the technology at its disposal. “We use curriculum mapping and pacing tools to assess what resources schools have in the classroom and map that to local standards,” explains Worrell. “This helps us identify any gaps in the instructional program and suggest ways to fill those gaps with some of our learning programs.”
Ultimately, the Comprehensive Literacy Solutions are reconnecting Scholastic with its roots, says Worrell. “We’re always focused on being more than a vendor and supplier of materials. Today we are a trusted thought partner who addresses issues of greatest concerns to educators. That’s always been Scholastic’s hallmark.”
Here Worrell explains how Scholastic’s Comprehensive Literacy Solutions work and how Scholastic’s education division will continue to evolve in the future.
What are your priorities as president of Scholastic Education?
As you know we’re focused on making sure that schools have access to the best resources for teaching and learning at the classroom level. And of course that involves the provision of curriculum, resources for classroom instruction, and development of professional learning programs. We’re thinking a lot about teacher effectiveness and what sort of professional development services we can provide to make sure that when it comes to literacy instruction, teachers are well equipped to give students what they need to learn and grow.
I am also working across Scholastic divisions more as we become a more cohesive unit. So I am working across our book fairs, book clubs, and our magazine group. We want ensure that all resources are leveraged appropriately to make a difference for kids.
Can you explain the goals of Scholastic’s Comprehensive Literacy Solutions?
We focus on being partners for educators and at its core that partnership begins with instructional reading and writing programs. There are countless combinations of products and services that meet the unique needs of educators whether they’re at the district, school, or classroom level. The shift that we’re seeing is a greater ease in our ability to tailor our offerings to what educators need. We have new curriculum mapping and digital pacing tools that help us customize solutions and technology. It’s helping us to create classroom libraries that are customized for individual student populations. We’re more motivated and prepared than we’ve ever been to stand side-by-side with our customers in defining what good instruction looks like and what a comprehensive literacy program needs to be for the individual teachers.
Why has Scholastic taken this more personalized approach?
Scholastic is built around trust and trust comes from listening and paying attention to what’s going on in the market. The feedback that we hear from educators is that they are wrestling with issues to meet the new Common Core standards and higher standards for college and career readiness.
And we want to make sure that [educators] are integrating resources that come from Scholastic or another provider as effectively as possible. We are able to look at their learning objectives, look at the resources they currently have in place, and then think about what Scholastic brings, whether it’s incremental resources and classroom material or professional training for teachers to help them become even better at using the resources they have. We’re acting as a partner working on a case-by-case basis to make sure that we’re bringing a unique value that we think Scholastic is best equipped to bring.
What are some of the new services that Scholastic is offering through these Literacy Solutions?
I’ll describe a few products and services. One of our services is called Edupace. That service customizes English Language Arts pacing guides that address gaps in existing instructional programs. These guides are specific to local curriculum standards. We compare those local standards with a school’s existing classroom resources. That helps us identify any gaps, and we can then bring forward our own instructional programs to fill those gaps.
Another example is a program that we’re calling D3 Libraries -- data-driven libraries that are designed to provide customized book selections based upon a student’s Lexile, guided reading, or DRA reading level. Scholastic can look at the existing classroom book inventory and local curriculum frameworks and on that basis put together a classroom book collection that’s leveled and designed with themes that connect with their standards but specifically address the students in that classroom. So when you go from classroom to classroom, depending upon the students that are included, the libraries are specifically customized to their needs.
One more example is Core Clicks. It’s a reading brand that we’ve developed with Nell K. Duke who is at the University of Michigan and is a well-known researcher in education. It’s a web-based program that provides engaging informational texts, intense studies organized across grade levels in instructional units that are typically 20 minutes in length. They are interactive with videos and review games, which are accessible from tablets, whiteboards, desktop computers, as well as mobile phones.
It sounds like Scholastic is utilizing adaptive learning tools alongside more extensive consultation services.
Absolutely. That’s one of the things that we are very focused on. Since the sale of our edtech division, we really want to make sure everyone understands that the technology remains a part of everything that we are doing and blended learning, adaptive learning is really important. You see that in Core Clicks, which is just one example. There are also classroom magazines, which are in print and digital and leveled according to grade level so that within a given class, the teacher can address the reading levels on the spot and to the student’s needs.
Is Scholastic investing in new technology products for the coming year?
Yes, we’re working across mediums. Technology absolutely remains central to who we are and what we do. We’re working on a digital program for Short Reads, which is designed to provide strategies for engaging students with short, thematically linked passages across text-types to drive critical thinking.
We know that schools are expecting programs that leverage all sorts of media. Short Reads will have video as well as short, complex texts. This will help students in the ongoing development of their critical thinking skills.
You founded the Family And Community Engagement initiative (FACE) at Scholastic in 2011. Why was that program founded and what are its goals?
Students come to the classroom with all sorts of experiences. Some prepare them for classroom instruction. But all too often students come into the classroom with what research categorizes as barriers to learning. They may not have access to a meal before coming to school or good medical care, or they may be from a community or family environment that may not have provided the reading role models that expose them to books. Over 60% of low-income children don’t have a single children’s book at home.
Knowing that research, what we’ve done is work with the leading research and educator in this area, Dr. Karen L. Mapp, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She’s been working with us to train educators to build partnerships with families and help them overcome these barriers.
How exactly is Scholastic facilitating these partnerships?
This goes back to Dr. Mapp’s work. She has developed with the Department of Education a framework called the Dual-Capacity Framework. It’s designed to look at the capacity of schools to reach beyond the classroom into the community to ensure that families become positive partners in supporting educators’ goals around teaching and learning. We’ve worked with her to build programming around that framework. We have a new workshop series that we developed with Dr. Mapp, in which she instructs educators on how to create a yearlong action plan to better engage communities and families in supporting student achievement.
We’re also working with school districts and states. For example, we’re working with over 40 districts around the state of Alabama to help them look at community-based organizations and resources and partner with them in a way that students can get the learning support that they need.
We also have lots of programming around mentoring. We have a program that’s been running in Houston now for six or eight years. It’s called Scholastic REAL – Read, Excel, Achieve, and Lead. Literacy mentors come in from the business community and read to students once week. We work with those business organizations to provide books for the students. Not only are they getting access to a reading role model in the classroom, but they are also leaving that classroom with books to build their home libraries. That’s been a powerful event.
How has your role changed since Scholastic has introduced its Comprehensive Literacy Solutions?
I would say my role is changing in a similar way that our realignment has. I’m increasingly focused on collaboration with schools. I’m also working across business lines. We’re working more cohesively across Scholastic’s leadership board. This means listening a great deal to my peers in other divisions and listening to our customers first. We’re working more closely with our authors. We have a great series of authors that drive our professional learning, and we’re partnering with them to bring professional learning programs to schools also. At the core, we’re listening to our customers who know exactly what they need. I’m invested in expanding our offerings in professional learning, community engagement, and independent reading.