Interview | The e2020 Vision of Sari Factor

The people behind e2020 recognized early on that there was a substantial and largely unmet opportunity for technology as a means for inspiring learning and improving academic achievement. “Technology has had a tremendous impact on the way we live, and has tremendous potential for the way we educate students,” says Sari Factor, CEO of e2020, a core and elective instruction provider in virtual and blended learning environments for students in grades 6-12. “Everyone knows no two students learn in exactly the same way, nor at the same pace; they have individualized needs,” she says. “We knew that traditional methods of schooling were failing far too many students.” So, instead, Sari and her team created a system and online curriculum to provide the best possible education for every student. “This is the mission that informed and inspired our service and that guides our journey today.”

Victor: Could you tell me more about why you created the company? 

Sari: Technology is game-changing because it levels the playing field and has the potential to break down barriers of inequity, providing access to the best teachers and the best learning experiences. With a platform like ours, we can push out the walls of a 30-student classroom and create a classroom with literally no bounds. It’s about putting engaging curriculum, in relatable forms and formats, in front of as many students as is possible while freeing up good teachers to be great. Ultimately, we want to lead the transformation to a new way of educating students by using technology to create a more engaging, effective, and efficient learning experience.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Sari: Our name represents a vision for the future of education.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Sari: e2020 is an online learning system with comprehensive curriculum for grades 6-12. We have become one of the largest online learning providers, supporting blended and virtual models that allow teachers to individualize instruction to meet each student’s needs. With courses in core and elective subjects, e2020 enables students to earn initial credit, recover credits for graduation, participate in Advanced Placement® courses, and prepare for state, end-of-course, and standardized assessments.

e2020 was created by educators and technologists who saw the opportunity to employ technology to provide access to students who might otherwise not be able to graduate from high school. That vision is still at the heart of the company today as we strive to deliver engaging and interactive courses to improve student outcomes.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Sari: Simply put, e2020 helps schools deliver curriculum in a more engaging, efficient, and effective manner. Across a variety of settings – from labs to blended learning classrooms to serving homebound youth – e2020 has helped millions of students experience a new model of education, ignite a passion for learning, become more self-directed learners, and realize their academic goals.

Our curriculum is interactive and motivating. Each student can work at his own pace, which is not possible in a traditional classroom of 30 students. Quizzes and tests are computer graded, freeing teachers to focus on high value activities, mentoring students and providing additional instruction – whether intervention or extension – to individuals or small groups of students with similar needs. Teachers have real-time access to student performance data, enabling them to see where students are having difficulty and then course correct appropriately – whether in the form of encouragement, counsel, or instruction.

Another benefit is that we allow students to get involved with subject matter that is interesting to them. Consider electives, which are the first courses to be eliminated from the curriculum when schools struggle with budget constraints because they aren’t required for graduation or supported by a small student population. Now, because technology delivers economies of scale that don’t require a student quorum to provide a course, we can offer that student his elective and be increasingly relevant to his academic pursuits or career exploration.

The same applies to Advanced Placement courses – some students don’t have access to accelerated course work because AP courses either aren’t provided or the school doesn’t have teachers who are qualified to teach the subject matter. But with e2020, you have an economy of scale that allows for this.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Sari: At the heart of e2020’s online learning solution are dynamic, highly qualified teachers who provide clear, concise instruction and modeling for students. Our rigorous, standards-based curriculum and interactive activities ensure that students are well prepared for high-stakes assessments and subsequent coursework. We have a relentless focus on improving student outcomes – the result is more college- and career-ready students.

We recently added more than 20 new elective courses to help prepare students for high demand careers, such as technology, business, and engineering. No company offers a wider variety of high-interest courses to provide students with relevant and motivating choices. Students can choose to take courses, such as 3-D Animation, Entrepreneurship, or Green Design, in addition to their core curriculum.

Educators that use e2020 appreciate the customization options that allow them to use our system for a wide variety of programs – as the core curriculum for virtual or blended learning programs, for credit recovery and dropout recovery – and we even have special features to make our courses accessible for special needs students.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Sari: An early innovator of online curriculum, e2020 was founded in 1998 as one of the first companies to support innovative learning models to facilitate individualized learning for students. Back then, it was primarily meant to serve students who were not succeeding in a traditional school setting or who couldn’t physically attend school. By 2000, we scaled the solution nationally. Shortly thereafter, when a school in New Mexico asked to bring e2020 into their school lab, it quickly became clear that there was much greater potential to affect positive outcomes through our online curriculum.

By 2006 we were seeing considerable growth, and two years later, we were essentially in our current form. Along the way, we listened to feedback from our users. I’m pleased to say that a majority of our features were created in response to suggestions from our customers. We continue to evolve and improve our curriculum and system, mindful of the research on effective online instruction.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Sari: The company originated in Michigan in 1998. Today our products and services are available nationally and in some foreign countries.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Sari: Most schools and districts prefer to buy our licenses based upon the number of computers they have, but we also price our courses on a per-student basis. We also help schools to implement the curriculum and to make the transition to online learning through our professional development services. Our goal is to make the transformation to online learning as easy as possible for educators. e2020 can even provide teachers if a school or district does not have qualified teachers in a specific subject, such as computer programming, business, or upper level sciences.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Sari: It is amazing to see the variety of implementation models that schools are using with e2020. One school near Phoenix uses e2020 courses for all of their science and social studies instruction, while maintaining the more traditional classroom-based method for math and English language arts classes. The Carpe Diem Collegiate High School in Yuma, Arizona, uses e2020 in a blended model, where every student spends approximately 50 percent of their time online with our courses and 50 percent of their time in classroom workshops to focus on specific skill development or class discussions.  Still other districts utilize e2020 as the core curriculum for their cyber – or virtual – schools.

We have countless examples of schools telling us about the success of e2020 in dropout prevention and credit recovery programs. One example is how e2020 has been used in Highland Park, Michigan. The Highland Park school system implemented e2020 in a pilot program for 107 students seeking to recover course credits through the Highland Park Career Academy (HPCA). The cohort of students from HPCA embodied all of the predictors of students who were at-risk of failing to graduate: 100 percent were economically disadvantaged and 76 percent had already dropped out of the Detroit Public School system.

Despite these hurdles, by using e2020, 79 percent of students were able to graduate.  Of the 23 students that failed to graduate on time, total time spent engaged in e2020 content was identified as the primary predictor of student achievement.  Finally, with the help of e2020’s Virtual Classroom, HPCA was able to increase their graduation nearly 34 percent higher than the Detroit Public Schools system for a similar sample of students.

Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Georgia, not only achieves AYP, but has also been recognized as a School of Excellence by the state, and can attribute a share of these accomplishments to the use of e2020’s virtual curriculum.  e2020 has been used at Gainesville High School since 2006. Students work in two labs of 60 computers during the four periods of a block schedule day and in the extended day computer lab during 5th period with two highly qualified teachers. In addition to access to the e2020 curriculum at school, students are also allowed to work from home with teacher support from school.

During the 2007-2008 school year, 222 students from all grade levels at Gainesville High School attended their Credit Recovery program and earned credits towards graduation with e2020 Virtual Classroom courses or e2020’s Virtual Tutor test prep course to prepare for the George HS Graduation Test in language arts, math and science.  Of the school’s 1,200 students, 92.6 percent achieved reading proficiency and 83.3 percent achieved math proficiency.

Schools using e2020 as a core curriculum, such as Rio Rancho Cyber Academy and Southwest Secondary Learning Center – both in New Mexico – consistently have the top scores (within the top 5) on their state standardized tests.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Sari: We developed e2020 as a core curriculum so it’s appropriate for the vast majority of students. Where other providers may develop a set of activities for individual skills or standards, and then string those activities together to compose a course, we take a holistic approach. We start by looking at all state and national standards and building a course from the ground up. The result is a rigorous curriculum that can be used for all students and can be adapted to the needs of individual learners. Our program is used to support all levels of students whether they are taking courses for advancement or because they have special learning needs or are second language learners. Because we can provide the entire curriculum for grades 6-12, we see some students taking their entire coursework through e2020; it is also appropriate for the student who simply wants to take one online course.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Sari: It’s an exciting time to be in education. I see schools and districts re-thinking the educational model that was created for an industrial age and experimenting with how to deliver instruction to get better results in the information age. Of course, technology is playing a much larger role. The economic challenges that districts have faced over the past several years has helped to fuel demand for new, more efficient instructional solutions.

Just a few years ago, one of the first questions educators asked of us was, “What textbook are you using?” Educators saw online learning as a supplement to more traditional instructional tools. Today we see schools beginning to embrace technology-based solutions replacing the textbooks and worksheets of the past. There are rich discussions taking place about the changing role of the teacher once technology becomes integral to the classroom. At e2020, we spend a lot of time thinking about these changes and helping schools navigate these new instructional models.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating e2020?

Sari: After taking computer programming courses in college and a short time teaching, I was involved with developing educational software for schools more than 30 years ago. At the time, there was tremendous resistance to using technology in schools. Although technology has transformed our lives outside of education, we have not seen significant change in the K-12 market. As a company of educators, we all have had formative experiences as students, teachers, parents, or administrators. That has helped to mold the company and allows us to fulfill our vision to be the leader in transforming schools by empowering educators and students with technology. Just seeing students who have faced learning or social difficulties in a traditional school model suddenly flourish by using e2020 motivates so many of us to continue to explore the many applications of online learning and continuously improve e2020’s solution. By taking advantage of technology, we can continue to provide the opportunity that a good education affords to an increasing number of students.

Victor: How does e2020 address some of your concerns about education?

Sari: Today, an unacceptable 30 percent of students don’t graduate from high school, because they don’t see their coursework as relevant or they lack the foundational skills to succeed academically. e2020 enables personalized solutions to help students achieve their educational goals. With our curriculum and broad range of tools for educators, we can help improve student performance. We meet the needs of a broad range of students by providing meaningful instruction to enhance the connection between school and work, and to prepare students well for their post-secondary experiences.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Sari: Policymakers are becoming increasingly concerned with the quality and delivery of education in the United States. Issues related to college preparedness, performance on international tests, the shortage of qualified teachers in subject areas such as mathematics and science, and high dropout rates provide an opportunity for companies like e2020 to help lead the transformation to new ways of educating our students. e2020, which offers rigorous online curriculum through sophisticated technology, showcases what a school of the future can be — blending online and teacher-delivered instruction, offering personalized instruction, and enabling access anytime or anywhere. Access to a great education can’t be exclusive to students in a particular zip code if we want the U.S. to be competitive. All students have the right to an education to prepare them for college or careers. With technology, and e2020, we can help achieve that goal.

Victor: Could you share a quirky anecdote—something that you think our readers might find interesting? 

Sari: It’s inspirational, not quirky, but I do hear many powerful stories when I’m walking the halls and talking to educators and students at schools that are using e2020. There are incredible stories of students who were in jeopardy of having to repeat a course or of dropping out because they were being forced into a one-size-fits-all education model. Once they have fallen behind these students are often so defeated and so de-motivated that it becomes a great challenge to reverse or remedy their path towards academic achievement. Their failures on tests and exams begin to propel a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students tell us that with e2020 they are brought into an environment that treats them as individuals. Their confidence builds because they have opportunity to master the concepts and assignments at the right pace and in a more discreet setting. And, their teacher can insert herself more meaningfully and at critical moments as they work to recover credits. These testimonials are heart-warming and are the reason we do what we do. We have quite a number of champions in these students.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of e2020? 

Sari: The value of e2020 is to enhance education through rigorous curriculum, and expose a larger group of learners to that content. At the same time, we’re bolstering the role of teachers by allowing them to focus on what they do best – that is, to work with students, to mentor and coach them, and not get bogged down with grading exams, finding curriculum resources or writing test questions. We’re moving them up higher on the education value chain and in turn creating a richer and more stimulating classroom experience for teachers and students.

Victor: What makes you say that?

Sari: The future of education lies in individualized learning that treats each student distinctly and I’d argue that technology is absolutely the enabler of personalized learning. We’re looking forward to the day that technology is applied well in every learning setting, from public to private to virtual, in a way that inspires and gives teachers the bandwidth to do what they signed on for when they first pursued their profession.

Victor: Thank you, Sari!

Sari: You’re welcome, Victor!

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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