In 2009, Knowledge Delivery Systems was looking for a way to expand its professional development business. The company had been successful in signing up individual teachers for its online seminars, but it hadn't been able to reach a bigger market.
When Alvin Crawford took over as chief executive officer that year, the company made the shift from a retail-based business model to one that focused on landing bigger fish as clients.
"In the past five years, all of our growth has come from working with school districts and states," said Crawford, noting that KDS made the jump with its relatively small staff of just a few dozen people. "We still work with individual teachers looking to improve their skills, but we've scaled up our operation."
That change — plus a laser-like focus on upgrading both its technology and its content — has helped KDS increase its revenue. The company has been expanding — posting 143 percent growth between 2010 and 2013 — despite the 2008 recession, which forced school districts to make deep cuts to their services and resulted in massive teacher layoffs across the country.
But, that's not the only challenge KDS has faced. While local, state and federal governments have budgets for professional teacher development, they are often segmented. That makes it difficult for bigger entities to fund large-scale training programs.
And, it's been a tough sell to get people focused on teacher development as opposed to accountability. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, the education establishment has concentrated on creating tests to measure performance without a corresponding emphasis on helping teachers improve their methods. That imbalance seems to be changing, albeit slowly.
Yet, KDS has found a way to keep moving forward.
In the next five years, the company is expecting to add 20 to 30 large school districts — a multimillion-dollar proposition — as clients. As the country's education system moves towards making college and career readiness the goal for school districts, KDS's mix of online programs will afford these educators a chance to get the training they need to teach to the new standards on their own schedule. The course catalogue is diverse, offering symposia on everything from dealing with cyberbullying to supporting struggling students to teaching writing.
"Our value proposition is that you can spend less per teacher and have more impact," said Crawford. "It's an efficiency story."
How does KDS measure success? Crawford, of course, cites its growing number of subscribers. But, he also adds another measure to the equation.
"We have a double bottom line," he said. "Teachers are in the business of helping kids, and we are in the business of helping teachers."