There are 87,198 public schools in America, serving almost 48 million public school students. In this article, I’ve broken down the different school district sizes to discuss what types of businesses match their needs. At MDR, we consider a district large if it enrolls over 10,000 students. A medium district enrolls 2,500 to 9,999 students, and a small district has less than 2,500 students enrolled. It is worth noting that there are large enrollment growths expected in the south and western United States, slower growth in the Midwest, and somewhat stagnant growth in the northeast.
Factors like special education enrollment, poverty levels, and/or a prevalence of English language learners in the student population will obviously affect the types of businesses that should approach schools with these unique needs. I’ve assumed that the districts have the average number of unique factors for total US schools. All districts have similar needs in terms of organizing student data, maintaining an online learning space and/or course management system, providing resources for digital textbooks, and security and safety innovations.
Large districts enroll more than half of all American students. It’s no wonder that every marketer strives to do business in the large district segment. Even a small order from a very large school system adds a lot to the bottom line. But, competition for large district business is fierce and the costs of doing business in these large environments can be high. State laws typically require competitive bids for contracts above a specific dollar value; large district contracts often reach that bid level, complicating and prolonging the sales process.*
Size matters, and if your product has the infrastructure to support tens of thousands of users, then large districts could be your focus. Student information systems that address a variety of needs are in demand. Creating an SIS for a large scale district requires an established presence in the market, with enough testing or support from technology leaders to vouch for the program’s success. Flexibility in the product is paramount, and if your product allows other critical programs to function within one interface, even better. Unique software programs like those that track student dietary restrictions may also be needed in large districts. IT Services Firms that offer installation and maintenance will find opportunities within large districts, as they add more tablets, notebooks, chrome books, and computing carts to their schools.
More and more large districts are looking to add personalized learning programs, which are online based, and may resemble course management or learning management systems, or connect with existing programs. Well established companies offering learning management systems will also do well in large districts. There are management systems for a variety of needs, including facilities management, professional development, and test-preparation, which larger districts are likely to have the needs for, data wise.
Medium-size districts can be seen as the sweet spot in the market; small enough to be flexible, and large enough to have the resources to pursue a variety of instructional solutions. Marketers need to be very sure that they know the basic demographics of these districts. Mid-sized districts located on the fringes of large urban areas often mirror their urban counterparts. They serve diverse student populations and face many academic challenges. They are laser-focused on closing the achievement gap, and bringing all students up to a mastery level on statewide achievement tests.*
You’ll find similarities with large districts, in terms of what they’re looking for (learning management systems, student information systems, professional development platforms, facilities management, opportunities for IT service firms, etc.). With medium districts, however, they will serve a smaller segment, and your product will do well if it offers more flexibility and interchangeability with the smaller user base. Schools want online-learning programs with the flexibility to allow teachers to choose what subjects or topics students focus on, and to adapt to student skill levels. Currently, most online-learning programs only allow one or the other ability (flexibility or adaptability).
More than 70% of school districts are small and many of them are in rural areas. These districts present their own unique challenges, but they represent an under-served segment of the K-12 market, and offer real sales opportunities. While total budgets are smaller, these districts often spend more on a per-pupil basis for products and services. They are also keenly aware that their students do not have easy access to educational, cultural, or economic resources and work hard to fill that void. While small, rural districts may require more technical and instructional support than larger districts, they are often easier to work with overall. They are looking for practical solutions and committed partners who will help them develop an internal capacity, while working cooperatively to ensure their students get the resources they need.*
Small districts may be looking for radically different solutions like switching to personalized learning programs, instead of traditional test based metrics where everyone must learn at the same pace. Innovative solutions in personalized learning, that also address other needs that all districts, regardless of size, face (learning management needs, or even fully integrated programs that offer student information system services) may be well received in the near future.
* Source: MDR’s K-12 Education Landscape. If you would like to see more insights into how your product fits in the education market, get your copy of the report, available now.