Today, after a key vote, it’s official: Two giants in the education space will join forces, creating a professional development powerhouse for their educator members.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) will merge, beginning in January, a move that leaders hope will help to speed up the pace and smooth the process of innovation in education.
This is the second time in recent years that ISTE has joined with another organization: In 2019 the group acquired EdSurge (the publication you are reading right now, though we continue to operate with editorial independence).
The two nonprofit associations serve different constituencies and are noticeably different in size. ASCD primarily serves school and district leaders and boasts 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, before the pandemic, drew more than 20,000 attendees (and this year drew 16,000 between online and in person settings).
The merger will legally formalize in January, with ISTE’s current CEO, Richard Culatta, slated to lead the new joint organization. Culatta said that a new legal entity will be created in the merger, serving as an umbrella for ISTE and ASCD while also allowing them to retain their separate identities and brands. Staff reductions are not expected as a result of the merger, officials said.
Leaders have not settled on a name for the combined organization, though they said they expect to announce one in the coming months.
Does the joining of an edtech association with one of the industry’s oldest professional development organizations signal that technology in education is now mainstream?
“I think it is a reaction to the reality that edtech has become an infused part of all learning,” argued Culatta, nodding to the fact that many schools and districts got where they are by necessity, when the COVID-19 pandemic began almost three years ago.
“Unfortunately, what has not come along with that is the thoughtful discipline and strategy for using [tech] in ways that improve learner engagement, close equity gaps and improve inclusivity,” he adds. His pitch is that the merger will forge better collaboration around teaching and technology.
The boards of ISTE and ASCD both voted to pursue the merger back in August. But the bylaws of ASCD required a 45-day period for its members to consider the change to the organization. The formal vote happened at an ASCD member meeting on Monday, Nov. 14 at its offices in Arlington, Virginia, though the votes had mostly been sent in advance by proxy online. Officials said more than 200 votes were cast, with 94 percent in favor of the union.
ASCD has struggled financially in recent years, according to tax filings. For instance, it operated at a loss of $4.6 million in the tax year 2019. But Sandy Husk, the interim CEO of ASCD, said in an interview Monday that finances have recently improved, and that the group was not in jeopardy.
“While I’m always concerned if you’re not seeing revenue be higher than expenditures, we still had good plans, good content and a new product launch—[a new professional development platform is expected next year]—and were sitting on a reserve that we were able to use for design and development,” said Husk. “So I was pretty confident in ASCD’s future, but I’m definitely fueled and very enthusiastic now about the idea of having all of the talent and expertise and strategic planning that Richard and his board bring.”
It was a board member at ASCD who first suggested approaching ISTE about the merger idea, said Husk.
For Culatta, the main appeal of the merger is to pull together conversations that tend to happen in silos.
“The conversations around effective use of technology and innovation and redesigning and rethinking education just can’t be a separate conversation from how we are running and leading schools,” he told EdSurge on 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 schools—have always reflected that.”
One key benefit to the new merged organization will be a chance to exert more influence within the education community, said Frank Catalano, a former edtech executive.
“You just have more clout,” he said. “Your seat at the table has gone from a three-legged stool to an armchair.”
There is precedent for member organizations to merge under a single umbrella, even if they serve slightly different audiences, Catalano said. He pointed to the Software and Information Industry Association, which back in the 1980s (when it was called the Software Publishers Association) acquired several groups and maintained them as separate operating units.
“What is being acquired here is a brand name … and a distribution list,” said Catalano. “I’m sure ISTE would like members of ASCD to buy stuff from ISTE—conferences, workshops, etc.” The challenge, he said, will be making sure that each side’s offerings are distinct enough, such as annual events for members. “Those conferences are going to have to figure out what is their core and what is peripheral,” he added.
Catalano said he predicts that the new merged organization might buy up other associations in the years ahead.
To that point, Culatta hedged.
“Oh, it’s too early to ask that,” he said, joking that even hearing the question makes him feel tired. “We’re focusing on getting this right.”
But he said he hopes that the merger will spark other education groups to think about joining forces.
“I hope this is a bit of a catalyst for a number of other types of unions, whether they’re formal mergers or whether they are new types of collaborations across the organization, across the industry where we’re seeing groups work, frankly, in silos,” Culatta said. “It’s inexcusable that we have so many education silos.”
That said, classroom educators and school leaders don’t always see eye to eye on what the future of school should look like, to the point where their interests might sometimes even conflict. And even Culatta acknowledges that, which is why he said the groups will remain distinct and separate in many ways.
“Just sort of a knee-jerk reaction of lumping everybody together is not the way to make this sort of industry-type change that we’re looking for,” he added. “It’s keeping the unique identities while more-thoughtfully … bringing, tying and crossing lines between the organizations.”