Today, after a key vote, it’s official: two giants in the education field will join forces and create a powerhouse for the professional development of their educational members.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) will merge starting in January, a move leaders hope will help accelerate the pace and innovation process in education to smooth.
This is the second time in recent years that ISTE has joined another organisation: in 2019 the group acquired EdSurge (the publication you are reading, although we remain editorially independent).
The two non-profit associations serve different constituencies and differ significantly in size. ASCD primarily serves school and district leaders and has 80,000 members. ISTE, meanwhile, serves educators interested in tech and innovation, as well as edtech leaders, and has around 23,000 members. ISTE is best known for hosting an annual edtech conference that attracted more than 20,000 attendees before the pandemic (and 16,000 between online and in-person settings this year).
The merger will be formalized legally in January, with Richard Culatta, current CEO of ISTE, to lead the new combined organization. Culatta said the merger will create a new legal entity that will serve as an umbrella for ISTE and ASCD while allowing them to maintain their separate identities and brands. Staff reductions are not to be expected as a result of the merger, it said.
Leaders have yet to agree on a name for the combined organization, although they said they expect to announce one in the coming months.
Does an edtech coalition joining one of the industry’s oldest professional development organizations mean that technology in education has now gone mainstream?
“I think it’s a response to the fact that edtech has become a pervasive part of all learning,” argued Culatta, nodding to the fact that many schools and districts were forced to get where they are as the COVID 19 pandemic began almost three years earlier.
“What has unfortunately not been added is the well thought-out discipline and strategy for use [tech] in ways that improve learner engagement, close equity gaps and improve inclusion,” he adds. His argument is that the merger will create better academic and technology collaboration.
The boards of directors of ISTE and ASCD both voted in favor of the merger in August. But ASCD’s charter required 45 days for its members to consider the organizational change. The formal vote took place at an ASCD membership meeting on Monday, November 14, at their offices in Arlington, Virginia, although votes were largely sent online in advance by proxy. Officials said more than 200 votes were cast, with 94 percent in favor of the union.
According to tax returns, ASCD has struggled financially in recent years. For example, the 2019 tax year worked with a loss of $4.6 million. But Sandy Husk, ASCD’s interim CEO, said in an interview on Monday that finances have improved recently and the group is not in danger.
“While I’m always concerned when revenue doesn’t exceed expenses, we still had good plans, good content and a new product launch -[a new professional development platform is expected next year]— and sat on a reserve that we could use for design and development,” said Husk. “So I was pretty confident about the future of ASCD, but I’m definitely fired up now and very excited about the idea of having all the talent and expertise and strategic planning that Richard and his board bring to the table.”
It was an ASCD board member who first suggested approaching ISTE about the merger idea, Husk said.
For Culatta, the main appeal of fusion is bringing together conversations that typically take place in silos.
“The conversations about using technology and innovation effectively and reshaping and reshaping education just can’t be separate from how we run and govern schools,” he told EdSurge Monday. “And we preach that all the time, but I don’t know that our actions — and by our actions I mean the support network around the schools — have always reflected that.”
A key benefit for the newly merged organization will be the ability to exert more influence within the education community, said Frank Catalano, a former edtech executive.
“You just have more influence,” he said. “Your seat at the table has changed from a three-legged stool to an armchair.”
There is precedent for affiliates coming together under a single umbrella, even if they serve slightly different audiences, Catalano said. He pointed to the Software and Information Industry Association, which acquired several groups as early as the 1980s (when it was called the Software Publishers Association) and continued to run them as separate operating entities.
“What’s being acquired here is a brand name … and a mailing list,” Catalano said. “I’m sure ISTE would like ASCD members to buy stuff from ISTE – conferences, workshops etc.” The challenge, he said, is to make sure each side’s offerings are sufficiently different, such as annual ones Events for members. “These conferences need to figure out what’s at their core and what’s peripheral,” he added.
Catalano said he predicts the new merged organization could buy out other federations in the coming years.
Up to this point, Culatta secured himself.
“Oh, it’s too early to ask that,” he said, joking that he felt tired just hearing the question. “We’re focused on getting this right.”
But he said he hopes the merger will encourage other education groups to consider merging.
“I hope this is a bit of a catalyst for a range of other types of unions, whether they be formal mergers or new ways of working together across the organisation, across the industry that we groups work in see, frankly, in silos,” Culatta said. “It’s unforgivable that we have so many educational silos.”
However, class teachers and principals do not always agree on what the future of the school should be, to the point where their interests can sometimes even be conflicting. And even Culatta recognizes that, which is why he said the groups will remain distinct and separate in many ways.
“Just a knee-jerk reaction of lumping everyone together isn’t the way to bring about the kind of industry change we’re looking for,” he added. “It means maintaining the unique identities while more thoughtfully…bringing, binding, and crossing boundaries between organizations.”