The virtual education movement received a major boost from London yesterday. From the Wall Street Journal:
Pearson PLC on Thursday said it has acquired U.S.-based online schooling network Connections Education for $400 million in cash, as the U.K.-based publishing giant ramps up its extensive North American education operations. […]“Virtual schooling is an attractive choice for a growing group of American parents and in the next decade it will take off in other countries,” Chief Executive Marjorie Scardino said.Connections Education supplies “virtual” education services to students in grades K-12 and learning programs to educational institutions globally. It operates online public schools accredited in 21 U.S. states, serving more than 40,000 students who choose not to attend traditional schools, Pearson said.The service has produced revenue growth of more than 30% in each of the past three years and expects to generate income of approximately $190 million in fiscal 2011, Pearson said.Pearson also expects the acquisition, which is subject to antitrust clearance, to boost adjusted earnings per share from fiscal 2012 and to generate a return on invested capital above the group’s weighted average cost of capital from the following year.
This is good news not only for Connections Education, but for virtual education as a whole. Supporters have long been optimistic about the possibilities faster computing and the internet could open up for education, and Via Meadia is also optimistic. Markets, however, are a bit more cautious about embracing new technologies before they have been suitably vetted. This acquisition, then, is a sign that optimism about online schooling is spreading. Pearson is a major British publishing company, and this move is a vote of confidence in the growth potential of virtual education markets in America.Home schooling is one piece of the complex family of approaches that is gradually emerging as the old public school system slowly yields grown. While effective, home schooling can be very labor-intensive and difficult to manage for working parents. Virtual education tools can help busy parents to educate their children, making home schooling or small group co-op schooling a more realistic option. As conventional public schools embrace more innovative techniques, and as various forms of community and home-based schooling develop, we are going to see a system that, I suspect, will work better and do more — and offer students, parents and teachers more and better choices than they have now.