MDR graciously offered me space this week, because I told them I wanted to reminisce. For anyone who’s been in the industry as long as I have, that’s a dangerous offer. I have enjoyed thinking back and calling up wonderful memories from decades of school market experience. But before I indulge myself, I have to say a huge Thank You to everyone who has reached out to me over the past few weeks. I was both humbled and heartened by the kind notes that so many people took the time to send or to post on the Kudoboard that MDR set up.
I was amazed to be credited for things that I was only able to do because so many people shared with me their industry knowledge over the years. I truly have stood on the shoulders of giants. I have tried to pay it back, and if I have offered an insight, or been an inspiration, or even just made someone smile on a bad day, I am grateful. My only complaint was that for every comment I read on the Kudoboard, I wanted to immediately reply, writing back to share a memory, ask a question or just to say it has been an honor to be your friend over the many past years.
I fell into the education research business by accident. I’d left the classroom in 1980, after a dozen years of teaching in suburban Chicago, Mississippi, Maryland, and Atlanta, to take a job at Follett Publishing, which allowed me to move back home to Chicago. I spent a year there editing a few product lines and exploring the potential of the company moving into the pre-K market. When it became clear that it was not to be, I found myself looking for a job. I answered a newspaper ad for a writer/editor and ended up joining Jeanne Dietsch in getting her new company off the ground.
TALMIS – Technology Assisted Learning Market Information Service – was offering syndicated research on technology in K-12 schools to publishers who were trying to figure out what this new personal computer craze might mean for their businesses. We fielded large scale surveys of K-12 schools, gathering data about technology use, and consulted with clients about product development and marketing strategies. This was all done with the support of Dick Casabonne and Richard Ballard, both of whom taught me so much about technology and publishing.
Other kind souls, like Bodie Marx at Milliken Software, who answered my questions about selling software to schools, and a friend at Bell Labs who walked me through more technical things like operating systems and computer networks, helped me continue learning. It was also then that I first met Nelson Heller who was working at Scott Foresman, a TALMIS client. While the print publishers tried to figure out their next moves, software from MECC (Oregon Trail, in particular), Tom Snyder Productions, Control Data’s PLATO system, and Computer Curriculum Corporation were showing the range of possibilities. I was regularly in and out of these companies, as well as Apple and IBM’s Education Division, helping clients get a better understanding of what classrooms were like, and what teachers needed and wanted in products.
When Ken Wasch founded the Software Publishers Association(SPA) in 1984, the circle of players I knew widened. SPA members published education, productivity, and entertainment software. In its early days, company founders and CEOs regularly attended SPA conferences and held Board positions – Mitch Kapor from Lotus 1-2-3, and Pete Petersen from Word Perfect Corp rubbed shoulders with Jan Davidson (Davidson and Associates) and Tom Snyder, while “Wild Bill” Stealey (MicroProse) and Trip Hawkins (Electronic Arts) touted their early military and sports simulations.
It was an amazing time, full of energy and optimism. I added Doug Carlston, CEO at Broderbund, to my list of sources, with Doug answering questions about retail distribution. A conversation with Bill Bowman and Yoel Givol (Logal Software) always left me smarter about the connection between learning theory, classroom practice, and product development.
In 1984, TALMIS was acquired by LINK Resources, and after two years in New York with LINK, I started my own consulting company. Like most consultants, I did a little of everything – market research, focus groups, writing, and editing. Unfortunately, I was awful at marketing myself. If it hadn’t been for Charles Blaschke (Education Turnkey Systems), and Dick Casabonne (Casabonne Associates), I would have starved. They came up with the projects, and together we did the work that the clients needed.
It was challenging, always new and different, and fun. I had a few recurring gigs: I did a yearly K-12 market overview for Peter Li, and wrote a series of annual research reports for MDR, working with Kathleen Brantley and Maureen Hance, just as I did as I began to close out my career. I had also begun to work with Nelson Heller who was publishing the Heller Reports newsletter and holding the annual EdNET Conference.
I missed the inaugural EdNET in 1989, but by 1990 I was helping put together materials and volunteering at the conference. It was through EdNET that I met Vicki Bigham, one of the true blessings in my life. We have worked and laughed and sometime cried together over the years. In 1991, I became the editor of the Heller Reports, interviewing company executives, keeping track of new products, and publishing a 12-page issue each month.
The 90s were the era of strong educational leadership on the part of state governors and an amazing group of tech directors at state education agencies. Gov. Terry Branstad in Iowa championed the development of the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), the first statewide fiber optic network which brought high-speed telecommunication services to schools, hospitals, and government agencies throughout Iowa. In Maine, Gov. Angus King worked closely with Seymour Pappert to establish the first statewide one-to-one computer program for the state’s middle school students.
Dave Brittain, Director of Educational Technology for the Florida Department of Education, helped create FETC, and developed the early policy that allocated money to districts for the purchase of software. Geoff Fletcher at the Texas Education Agency helped guide the development of the legislation that created the Texas Technology allotment, and advocated for the inclusion of digital resources in the textbook adoption process. Elsie Brumbaugh, at the SC Department of Education, saw libraries and librarians as essential elements in integrating technology into the classroom.
The 90s also saw a lot of market change, with hostile takeovers, mergers and acquisitions, and the demise of some of the leading software companies, like Knowledge Adventure, Broderbund, and Davidson and Associates. A transformation saw Kevin O’Leary’s Softkey (yes, that Kevin O’Leary) take on the Learning Company name. Schools were using productivity software like Kid Pix and Claris Works, trying out more substantive instructional products like IBM’s Writing to Read, introducing CD-ROM-based reference tools, and demanding more multimedia.
In 1994, I went to work full-time for Nelson, and it continued to be an amazing journey. Nelson is so smart and so totally open to new experiences, that there was seldom a dull moment as he spun off ideas and tried new approaches. In 2002, QED, a Scholastic company, acquired Nelson’s business. Suddenly, our little group was part of a much bigger organization and it was wonderful to have the extra resources. QED had a full-blown market research department and I got to work with three amazing women – Deirdre Martel, Amy Grosch, and Stephanie Burdick – who taught me so much about the correct way to do market research, and who I am still lucky to call friends.
Emily Graner put her amazing organizational skills and great creative eye to work on EdNET, and the Conference got a whole new look and feel. There were peers at both QED and Scholastic to toss ideas around with and to support new projects. When Scholastic sold QED to MDR, we sadly lost a number of our Denver colleagues, but gained new ones in Shelton.
In the end, it’s the people who matter, and throughout my career I have been lucky to work with talented, dedicated people who care about their jobs and the clients they serve. I’m thankful for all the people who challenged my thinking and asked hard questions – people like Peter Kelman, John Richards, Mark Stevens, Steve Rappaport, Frank Catalano, Karen Billings, Marci Goldberg and so many others. That’s the way you grow. I especially treasure the network of women who have shared industry news, pooled talents to address big projects and celebrated each other’s successes over the years.
I won’t drag you through any more decade details. Right now, the early memories are much sharper than the more recent ones. There are fewer of us around who remember those years, and they were so central to my career and who I became that I really wanted to celebrate them while I still can. I can’t possibly name everyone who supported me over the years, but I do remember each of you. I can sometimes even still hear your voices as you offered advice. I hope over the years I have shared some useful information. Most of all, I hope I have never failed to repay the support, respect, and friendship that I have received.
I can tell it’s going to take me a while to get used to retirement. The good news is it’s just my job that I’m leaving behind. I’m not retiring from the education market community. You know where I am. Please keep in touch. Keep on doing good!