One of the most active acquirers of K-12 digital curriculum tools says it is opening a new chapter. Weld North Education, an education company that has long focused on providing digital intervention and supplemental products in the K-12 market, has acquired LearnZillion, a Washington, D.C.-based company that sells core curricula.
In an interview with EdSurge, Weld North Education CEO and chairman Jonathan Grayer said this marks its first deal involving a digital core curriculum provider.
The products in Weld North’s current portfolio—Edgenuity and Imagine Learning—largely offer materials developed for supplemental, intervention and remedial purposes. And even though some have been used as core materials in a handful of districts, “we couldn’t meet the core curriculum needs of most school systems,” says Grayer.
This is the third deal that Weld North Education has done since KKR, a private equity firm and its previous financial backer, sold its stake to Silver Lake in 2018. Since then, Weld North Education has acquired Glynlyon, which offers online K-12 courses for intervention and credit recovery, and Assessment Technology Inc.
LearnZillion’s assets will become part of Edgenuity. Today, the company offers a K-5 language arts curriculum authored by EL Education, and a middle-school math curriculum created by Illustrative Mathematics. LearnZillion is not the only provider of these same materials, which were developed as open-source materials that others can adapt and sell. (Open Up Resources is among the other organizations also selling products around the materials. Weld North Education also offers an English language arts curriculum developed in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Education.
In addition to these materials, Grayer also said that LearnZillion will serve as a “platform and distribution system” for the other curricula in Weld North Education’s portfolio, such as those offered by Imagine Learning and Compass Learning (which is part of Edgenuity).
With the addition of LearnZillion, Weld North Education will serve an additional 400,000 students, according to a company representative. Prior to this deal, Weld North’s tools were used by about seven million students across 20,000 schools.
Grayer said that conversations about a possible deal began in early 2018. He declined to disclose the price of the transaction. LearnZillion had raised $32.5 million from investors.
Core curriculum was not LearnZillion’s initial focus when the company started in 2011. Then, the company worked on building a library of supplemental materials and instructional videos, many created by teachers it paid. These resources were offered for free while the company charged districts for professional development services.
In 2018, company pivoted to selling digital curriculum to districts, a change that involved cuts to the team. EdSurge learned that it cut 20 employees last May—which followed an earlier round of layoffs in 2017. Today, the team numbers 35 employees, who will all join Weld North Education.
Eric Westendorf, LearnZillion’s co-founder and CEO, told EdSurge that under the new owner, he expects to hire additional staff to as the team works to develop other core curricula.
Grayer, who was the CEO of Kaplan for more than a decade before starting Weld North in 2010, said his plan has always been to amass an empire of digital curriculum offerings.
“My goal from the beginning has been to build an education company that could change the way teachers teach kids,” he said. “It would be centered on digital curriculum. It would be able to capture lots of data about a child, which would better serve up the next day’s learning, and allow a constant flow of feedback to the teacher, parent and child about how the child is doing.”
Weld North has emerged as one of the most active buyers of digital education assets. Under KKR (prior to Silver Lake deal in 2018), it made 13 acquisitions. LearnZillion marks the 16th deal that Grayer had a hand in.
He says the company has the appetite and wallet for more. “We want to own as much good digital curriculum as we can. We have holes in our library,” he offers, adding that “there are core curriculum needs that we’re eager to fill.”