Making its second acquisition of a major competitor in less than a week, Pearson School Systems announced yesterday that it is purchasing Chancery Software Ltd., a leading publisher of student information systems (SIS) and library automation software for schools. Last week, the education-focused division of the British media company Pearson PLC purchased another top competitor, Apple Computer’s PowerSchool division (see story: Pearson buys Apple’s PowerSchool).

The moves make Pearson far and away the largest provider of SIS solutions for the K-12 market, with the size of its SIS business having doubled in a matter of days. But some educators who spoke with eSchool News said they are concerned that such rapid change could affect the quality of service they receive from the new entity.

Pearson officials have declined to discuss the terms of either deal, but Wendy Spiegel, director of communications for Pearson, said the company is acting on a strong belief that the SIS market is the "place to be."

"The new demands of NCLB [the No Child Left Behind Act], and the move in the K-12 world to automated student information systems, … has created an emerging growth market," Spiegel said.

"The products we represent in Pearson School Systems, SASI and Pearson Centerpoint, as well as [Chancery’s] products … and the PowerSchool solution, give us a complete suite of opportunities for all size districts. From small to medium to large districts, we will have a solution," she said.

According to Pearson, Chancery is the second largest SIS provider to United States schools in terms of revenue, with an installed base of 6,000 schools and recognized capabilities in building, installing, and supporting customized systems for large school districts. Pearson is the market leader in the SIS business, with an installed based of more than 16,000 schools. PowerSchool, reportedly the third largest SIS provider in terms of revenue, counts about 7,200 small-to-medium-sized schools as its customers. Both Chancery and PowerSchool will be integrated into Pearson School Systems, which now will operate under the leadership of former PowerSchool President Mary McCaffrey.

"The acquisitions of PowerSchool and Chancery transform our SIS business, doubling its size and enabling us to offer the pre-eminent software solutions for all levels of schools and districts–small, medium, and large," said Steve Dowling, president of Pearson’s education holdings. "All three businesses have a long and successful history of investment and innovation, and together we will continue to develop new services to help schools achieve their goals."

Dowling added: "The large districts that Chancery supports require a very high level of customization and support as they build and install their systems. Chancery has a great deal of experience and talent in this area and will bring a lot to Pearson."

John Krewer, superintendent of the Spotswood School District in New Jersey, said he has worked with Pearson for more than 10 years "in a number of settings" and has confidence in the company.

"Pearson has always been customer-centered–i.e., student-centered," Krewer said. Company officials appear to have "a unifying thread in their approach to clients and potential clients," he said. "The organization values ongoing availability, they’re always monitoring what we’re doing, and they give us constant feedback. If that Pearson philosophy dominates the acquisitions, it’s better for [educators]–especially with the demands of NCLB. Anything we can do to strengthen the partners with whom we work … helps us."

Spiegel said the change for customers will be seamless and will result in no more than "a different logo on their billing." She said Pearson also will continue to support Chancery’s library management system, Library Pro, although Pearson has no prior holdings that deal with library solutions.

Not everyone is as confident that the transition will go so smoothly.

Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Shillington, Pa., whose district moved from using Chancery’s products to using PowerSchool after finding the latter to be a more dynamic product, expressed some concern.

"Pearson is a high-quality company, they’ve accumulated many excellent products, [and] I respect that they have gone after many of the best-of-breed applications," Becker said.

But "the SIS is absolutely critical to schools. It’s the backbone to grades, instructional programs, and a number of other activities. … Apple has put a lot of resources into developing its product and providing excellent tech support. My biggest concern is, will Pearson put as much effort behind one of its many products?"

Spiegel said Pearson is making personalized assurances to Chancery customers–just as the company did for PowerSchool customers–that the quality of their SIS service will not change, and she insisted there is no cause for concern among educators and administrators.

"For us, there is a real excitement about our organization being able to offer a full suite of solutions for districts of every size," she said. "The opportunity to combine these [three] world-class service organizations … will benefit [the] customers [of] all organizations. The important thing for our customers to understand is that there will be no change in the implementation, sales, service, and support for the products they have selected for their district."

Links:

Pearson School Systems
http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com

Chancery Software Ltd.
http://www.chancery.com

PowerSchool
http://www.apple.com/education/powerschool