Growth is slowing. Is it the product, the market — or the team?

We received that question a lot back in the early 2010s. Stimulus funds were drying up and K–12 investors were confounded. Even some of the most sophisticated players in the space were forced to revisit core tenets of their strategy.

Not surprisingly, we’re getting the same sort of questions now.

Once again, the wind down of federal stimulus looms large (my colleagues David and Alex offer a nuanced take on the outsized impact of special ed funding on district budgets). But while funding is a major piece of the puzzle – it’s not the only piece.

District needs were different in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Most were in triage mode. Online wasn’t just a modality – it was the only modality. As New York Times columnist Jessica Grose put it: School districts were in an “emergency situation;” teachers were “desperately trying to engage their students.” Of course, emergency needs are different from long-term needs, and today, districts are solving very different sorts of problems.

Those needs are reflected in not just district priorities, but state policy and funding. We’re seeing significant shifts in demand and expectations for High-Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM) and reading and math curriculum. There are other dynamics at play as well: K-12 is thinking, in a more expansive way, about what success looks like after high school.

The edtech market itself is also changing. Cybersecurity is a paramount concern. As James Lane explains, “Chat-based tutoring programs that once came at a cost are now being offered for free, making it possible for schools to reallocate resources to the students who need the most intensive intervention.”

Of course, talent matters too. Selling into a crisis that led to a generational investment in our K-12 schools is different from selling into an environment typified by scarcity.

Evidence matters more than ever. Integration commands a premium. Executives steeped in the nuance, realities, and tradeoffs that educators are grappling with can earn a seat at the table. Marketers who understand not just the application – but the limitations – of products can craft messages that resonate with decision makers and cut through the noise. This is hard work. There is no “low-hanging fruit.” Investors – and businesses — that embrace rigor and double down on outcomes will thrive. Short-term strategies that optimize for growth over outcomes will be just that: short-term.