A Welder of Digital Curriculum Companies Buys Its Latest

Mergers and Acquisitions

A Welder of Digital Curriculum Companies Buys Its Latest

By Tony Wan     Feb 11, 2019

A Welder of Digital Curriculum Companies Buys Its Latest

Weld North Education is named after the Harvard dormitory where its founders first met in 1982. Little did they know then that the first word in its name would become a fitting pun for the private equity firm’s consolidation of education companies.

Since 2010, Weld North Education’s CEO and founder, Jonathan Grayer, has been scooping up online educational assets and fusing them together in an effort to create “the largest provider of digital curriculum serving preK-12 schools,” as he tells EdSurge in an interview. Last week, the firm announced what will be its 14th deal: Glynlyon, a digital curriculum company based in Chandler, Ariz.

Terms of the transaction, which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2019, were not disclosed. Glynlyon was previously owned by another private equity firm, Linsalata Capital Partners.

Today, Weld North Education consists of two main offerings: Edgenuity (formerly known as e2020), a provider of digital K-12 courseware for physical and virtual schools, and Imagine Learning, which provides online supplemental programs for math, English and Spanish.

Within them are pieces from other acquisitions that have since been absorbed. Some are pioneering brands, founded more than a decade ago. Compass Learning, an online curriculum program used for primary and supplemental instruction, was acquired by Weld North in 2016 and merged into Edgenuity. Similarly, Imagine Learning include assets from ThinkThroughMath (acquired in 2016) and Reasoning Mind (bought last year, after downsizing).

Weld North Education CEO Jonathan Grayer
Weld North Education CEO, Jonathan Grayer

Founded in 1977, Glynlyon consists of two product divisions. One of them will be a complementary addition to Weld North’s portfolio: Odysseyware, a library of online courses covering career and technical education along with K-12 subjects, often used for intervention and credit recovery. Because it has some overlap with what Edgenuity offers, there’s a possibility that some of its financial resources and operations could be merged with Edgenuity, says Grayer. But he also reassures existing Odysseyware customers to expect no changes in their service.

The other Glynlyon brand is AOP, a provider of Christian-themed print and online curriculum for homeschool parents. This will be a new market for Weld North Education, which will operate this product line as its own separate division, given that its sales and operations are focused on a different market. Together, Odysseyware and AOP serve more than 1 million students.

Weld North’s buy-and-build strategy is one that has worked for Grayer in the past. He ran Kaplan as its CEO from 1994 to 2008, during which he oversaw 67 acquisitions and more than doubled the company’s revenue—to around $2.3 billion—by the time he left.

“Digital curriculum is by no means new,” dating back to the 1980’s, Grayer tells EdSurge. Back then, he recalls, those products ran on local servers or CD-ROMs, and were primarily used for self-paced intervention or supplemental learning needs. Many of these tools were used in environments that more closely resemble cubicles than classrooms, with students working by themselves in front of a computer.

The biggest difference, from his perspective, about today’s digital curriculum tools is that they have “evolved to incorporate assessment engines that create a real-time feedback loop.” Getting immediate feedback and data about students’ learning, he adds, allows these tools to be deployed in different blended learning environments, including ”flipped” classrooms. (To be sure, there remain reports that such tools, including Edgenuity, are still used in pedagogically dubious ways at times.)

The Kaplan Connection

With Glynlyon under its fold, Grayer claims that Weld North Education’s suite of tools will reach more than 6 million U.S. students.

Company-reported user numbers are almost impossible to compare and should be taken with a grain of salt. But that figure would make Weld North Education one of the largest U.S.-based digital curriculum providers. A competing online curriculum company, Curriculum Associates, boasted usage by as many as 7 million students as of last year.

Other competitors mentioned by Grayer include K-8 math instructional provider DreamBox, which claims to serve 3 million students, and literacy platform Achieve3000, which boasts a similar footprint. Coincidentally, all three competitors are currently run by CEOs who previously worked at Kaplan, he noted. “The best part of Kaplan is how much talent it created and what we’ve done since. We now compete, and our businesses certainly overlap.”

Grayer’s former colleagues are not sitting idly. Last year, Achieve3000 acquired a competitor, Actively Learn. A few months before, DreamBox raised a whopping $130 million from TPG’s Rise Fund. And Curriculum Associates, which boasts more than $250 million in revenue, acquired an educational gaming company in 2017.

These moves come as no surprise to Grayer: “This is the period we’re in now, and we’re seeing consolidation in the [edtech] marketplace.” He also teased at a forthcoming deal, involving a company that focuses on “assessments and psychometrics.”

There’s a pattern across all of acquisitions that Weld North Education have made: companies that have survived nearly a decade, with a sizable sales operation and generating northward of a million dollars in revenue. “We tend to pay for the performance of a business rather than the promise,” says Grayer.

Don’t expect him to shell out for a splashy but unproven startup. The education industry, he’s learned, “is not one that sets up great for some great single-stroke solution that will change everything. This has always been a complicated market, one that’s about a lot of different businesses doing a lot of small, right things every day.”

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