Ever since Pearson sold PowerSchool in June 2015, the two companies have embarked on very different paths. The once venerable publisher axed several high-profile (and profitable) businesses in the Financial Times and The Economist as part of efforts to transform itself into a digital learning business.
PowerSchool, meanwhile, has been eagerly buying pieces as it marches to “build a unified classroom” data management system, in the words of company CEO, Hardeep Gulati. Today, the Folsom, Calif.-based company acquired Chalkable, a student information system (SIS) used largely in Alabama as well as in southern and midwestern U.S. states.
Terms of this deal—PowerSchools’ sixth acquisition since being sold to Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm—were not disclosed, although Gulati says the company has now spent more than $200 million on these transactions. PowerSchool has gained roughly 380 employees through these purchases (including 120 from the Chalkable team) and now boasts nearly 1,000 full-time staff across the country.
The sale gives PowerSchool access to Chalkable’s clientele of 1,100 U.S. school districts. Customers can continue to use the Chalkable SIS, although it will not have the full breadth of features that PowerSchool offers. Gulati gushed about another Chalkable asset, Learning Earnings, that allows teachers to offer rewards (such as hall passes and lunch) to incentivize positive student behavior. The ability to measure student behavior has been “one of the missing pieces” that Gulati says his company has been trying to fill.
Like PowerSchool today, Chalkable’s offerings have come through previous acquisitions. Chalkable was formerly called STI, a Mobile, Ala.-based education data management company founded in 1982. The company raised $3 million in 2013 and acquired three companies: Learning Earnings, Spiral Universe (an SIS provider) and Chalkable, which initially aimed to create an educational app store where teachers can purchase and deploy apps. (TechCrunch suggested STI paid around $10 million for Chalkable.) STI rebranded as Chalkable in March 2015.
PowerSchool has now added an array of services in the past 15 months, including a learning management system (through its purchase of Haiku Learning), special education reporting (TIENET), student enrollment (InfoSnap), formative assessments (Interactive Achievement) and a Canadian SIS (SRB Education). The company doesn’t plan to halt its shopping spree, Gulati says: “We’ll continue to remain acquisitive and continue innovating.”
By hooking up different education tools into the PowerSchool SIS, which serves more than 24.5 million students across the world, Gulati hopes to make data more accessible and actionable for teachers. He’s not alone: other companies such as Alma, based in Portland, Ore., also aim to combine SIS, LMS and other education data tools into one single package.
“What we’re trying to solve is the problem of data silos and fragmentation in K-12,” he explains. “Teachers currently have to go through several systems to use all the tools they need for instruction.”
School and district administrators may also find it handy to have access to different data in one place. New state and federal law, including the Every Student Succeeds Act, will require districts to report much more rigorously on student achievement data. Beyond the typical standardized testing and graduation measures, the proposed rules will let states report on other “school quality” indicators such as student engagement, behavior and school climate.
Making these reports easier to generate may drive demand for tools like PowerSchool. But that’s not the main motivation behind the company’s ongoing efforts to connect data from disparate sources, assures Gulati. “It is all about enabling teachers to use their tools better.”