How CA Group Builds Strategic Partnerships that Support School Transformation
This profile is part of an EdSurge Research Guide about school redesign and the landscape of service provider organizations that support schools and districts throughout the process. The full guide includes a report highlighting trends, insights and challenges we learned about while studying the market over the course of six months.
CA Group is a consulting firm dedicated to improving education for students in grades K-12. The firm works with schools and districts in addition to businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations to support school design and replication of successful school models. CA Group manages large scale systemic change in schools across a particular region and also supports districts, networks and schools through the process of school model redesign. In both types of work, CA Group provides assistance in design as well as implementation and fosters relationships with organizations that can help with major school transformations and rethinking aspects of the model like time, space and schedule.
For the large scale systemic work, the company typically takes a cohort of schools through a variety of workshops to support redesign on a larger scale. As part of this process, CA Group often begins with a “personalized learning scan,” in which the team looks at what resources are already in place on a district, city, and state level to support personalized learning. This can include investigating education policies at the district or state level or identifying which technical assistance providers might be able to support the initiative.
Founder and CEO Cat Alexander brings a diverse set of experiences to her firm. While attending business school in Chicago, she interned at Chicago Public Schools when Arne Duncan was superintendent; this ignited her interest in charter schools and school redesign. She initially founded CA Group in 2006, then went on to serve as the Chief Operating Officer of Rocketship Education, and program officer at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. In 2013 she returned to CA Group full-time and launched its personalized learning practice. The company’s first large contract was helping Stacey Childress—then the Deputy Director of the Gates Foundation—and her team design and launch the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and the Next Generation Systems Initiatives.
Who They Work With
CA Group works with public districts, charter networks, individual schools, nonprofit organizations, foundations and corporations. The company’s ideal educational partner is a school, district or network that is committed to putting the learner at the center of the learning experience, and is willing and able to include a vertical team of its own staff members in the design, implementation and scaling process. CA Group works best when school leaders and teachers have a good degree of autonomy.
What They Do
CA Group works on a variety of projects but most of them fall into two categories: systemic change and personalized learning pilots. Sometimes the company works in a particular region to manage a large-scale systemic change across multiple districts and charter networks. The company refers to these large-scale projects as “ecosystem design work.” In other cases, Alexander’s team assists schools, districts and networks through the process of school model redesign by designing, implementing and scaling personalized learning pilots.
Regardless of scale, CA Group is heavily involved in all design and implementation work. The company helps build relationships with other organizations that can provide expertise in various areas throughout the process. CA Group has eight employees with three implementation managers (all former teachers), three ecosystem managers, and two general consultants.
CA Group’s goal is to personalize the learning experience and empower teachers to have the autonomy to rethink elements of the instructional model that impact learning, such as time, space, schedule and resources. The company’s approach highlights blended learning as the way to personalize learning at scale. Typically, CA Group works with a school, district, network or ecosystem for 18 to 24 months.
A Specific Engagement
In June 2015, Raise Your Hand Texas, an organization that invests in research and programs that impact public education in Texas, funded the Raising Blended Learners Initiative. The initiative was designed to build exemplars for blended learning in diverse schools and districts across the state of Texas. The work is deeply rooted in Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn’s book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. This project exemplifies both ecosystem and school design work.
Over the course of nine months, CA Group supported Raise Your Hand Texas and Heather Staker to develop a program in which district and charter schools across the state could apply to receive funding and support from technical assistance providers in order to design, pilot and implement blended learning. To begin the project, CA Group evaluated personalized learning in Texas. Then it managed the school and district selection process, and recruited service providers to assist with various elements of support. Additionally, CA Group supported the school and district teams directly with program design and implementation.
The core of CA Group’s role was aimed at giving districts exposure, designing pilots, implementing those pilots and identifying ways to scale. Here's how they did it:
Seventy five teams representing a diverse set of schools and districts from across the state were chosen to attend a series of workshops in fall 2015; CA Group helped facilitate these workshops. Of those teams, 67 submitted blended learning business plans and ten were selected to refine their plans.
CA Group worked with these teams as they were refining their plans. In April 2016, five of those teams were chosen to each receive $500K and technical support over the next three years to pilot and implement their blended learning plans. The five schools are: Birdville ISD, Cisco ISD, KIPP Houston, Pasadena ISD and Point Isabel ISD.
As of fall 2016, CA Group will support these five school teams for three years. One of the company’s implementation managers is working with teachers at each of the five schools to refine goals, design a student experience and build a pilot implementation plan. This work takes the form of weekly meetings and design workshops.
The pilot implementation phase will take place throughout the 2016-2017 school year. CA Group will review data from the pilot to determine if and how the teams will scale their pilots. Scaling could mean spreading the pilots to more subject areas, more grade levels or working across additional schools. If the teams scale their pilots, CA Group plans to support that phase of work.