Controversial Common Core Boosting Opportunities For K-12 Education VARs

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Common Core may be a source of controversy in some circles, but it's turning into a major growth driver for the channel.

While the Common Core State Standards Initiative has been assailed by everyone from political commentator Glenn Beck to comedian Louis C.K., the program -- which has been fully adopted by 44 of the 50 states -- has created an IT spending spike in the K-12 education market of which solution providers, vendors and distributors have taken advantage this year.

"There's a lot of investment around education from Common Core," said Mike Humke, Ingram Micro's executive director of U.S. public sector and vertical markets. "And it's not just selling hardware; it's actually consulting with teachers about new technology and delivering educational solutions."

[Related: School Of Thought: Google, Synnex Driving Chromebook Adoption In K-12]

Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a nonprofit group of public school officials and department heads, as a set of basic standards for math, reading and writing skills for students.

While Common Core comes with no specific technology requirements, the initiative includes implementation funding from the federal government (Common Core adoption is not federally mandated, and states can voluntarily accept or reject the new curriculum standards).

"We're seeing a substantial uptick in IT spending in the K-12 space driven by Common Core and the federal funding around it," said Tony Safoian, president and CEO of SADA Systems in North Hollywood, Calif.

The adoption of Common Core has led many states to improve their IT infrastructures and purchase new devices for students. In addition to Common Core implementation funds available for states, there are additional programs and initiatives related to Common Core that focus specifically on technology.

One such initiative is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a state-led group that focuses on online exams to measure student progress, which has its own "Technology Strategy Framework and System Requirements Specifications" for new technology deployments around Common Core.

The State of Connecticut issued an RFP last summer for technology investments to implement Common Core and administer Common Core-aligned testing from Smarter Balanced Assessments.

The RFP included requests for "new computer devices" and "inter-school [Internet] bandwidth" to support the hardware devices as well as a "secure, online reporting system" that provides assessment results to students, teachers, administrators and parents.

Solution providers said Common Core's implementation funds and related programs have created new opportunities for technology solutions and upgrades in K-12 clients.

Gary Bellanti, president of Open Road Technologies in Memphis, Tenn., said the Common Core rollout has been part of a larger focus in Tennessee to raise the IT investment in education.

"The infrastructure at many schools is in need of so much upgrading, particularly around network infrastructure and wireless connectivity," Bellanti said. "They're starting to make those investments, and those upgrades tend to drag a lot of other opportunities around devices too."

Distributors like Ingram Micro and Synnex have been promoting Common Core awareness to their respective customer bases this year, while vendors such as Google and Microsoft are focusing on the initiatives as well.

SADA Systems, which is a Premiere Enterprise Google Reseller and a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, said that in addition to Common Core adoption, many states have "one-to-one" computing initiatives that require each student has his or her own computing device, whether it's a PC, Chromebook or tablet.

"We're seeing a lot of demand for new devices today at the K-12 level," Safoian said. "And those devices bring along a lot of apps too. So there's a lot of opportunity there."


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