EdOptions gets an A+ for growth

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In just five years, Educational Options Inc., an Arlington-based provider of educational software programs for middle-school and high-school students, has gone from serving 6,000 students in seven school districts to serving 300,000 students in 1,500 school districts.

What’s the secret to the rapid growth? The company’s focus on pairing technology and teachers. It’s a competitive differentiator in an industry that has tended to focus on enabling independent learning.
“Even though we’re in the education technology business, we still hold to the philosophy that the teacher is the most important link in the learning process,” says CEO Tom Sawner, who purchased the company in 2003. “So while kids have the ability to take their class with the content being delivered to them over the Internet, it is done with the full coordination of the teacher.”

The company’s Star Suites product, which won a 2008 Educational Software Review Award (EDDIE) for its user-friendly Web site, provides rigorous curricula that meet required learning standards in 49 states for sixth- through 12th-grade classes. In addition, it provides assessment tools that allow teachers to track progress and focus coursework on areas where the student is weak. The program also enables adult students to prepare for GED or high-school exit exams.

The content is written by about 30 curriculum developers, most of whom are certified teachers. EdOptions also recently hired a company to keep track of changes in any state’s desired learning objectives and to make sure that course content correlates with those requirements.

“We’re constantly updating courses,” Sawner says. “The paper-based textbook publishing industry has an average change cycle of seven years; we have closer to a seven-day change cycle.”

EdOptions is an application service provider, meaning that the software program and content are housed and maintained onsite in Arlington so end-users need only an Internet connection and Web browser to access its resources. The company generally charges by an annual subscription, allowing schools to pay a flat rate for a defined number of students, although discounts are available based on volume. As an example, a school that wants to introduce the concept can buy a 25-seat package for $300 per student.

Sawner projects that the company, which has 109 employees and is hiring, will add another 100,000 students to its rolls in the 2009-2010 school year.

Revenue has been growing at a 165 to 180 percent clip for the last several years, and he expects that rate to continue, in large part because the attrition rate is almost nil. “We have a greater than 99 percent renewal rate,” Sawner says. “And that’s because we’re cost-effective and we help teachers maximize student achievement.”

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