Few people in Portland might realize that Knowledge Universe is one of the city’s largest employers, with about 1,400 employees working in its Lloyd District headquarters and in 29 centers around the state operating under the KinderCare, Knowledge Beginnings and Children's Creative Learning Center (CCLC) brands; the latter is the company’s employer-based child care division. In a boost to the local economy, Knowledge Universe opened a new Portland customer service center last August, employing 120 people. A few months later, CCLC opened the new “Healthy Starts” center in partnership with OHSU in the emerging South Waterfront district.
Nationwide, Knowledge Universe oversees six brands including KinderCare, the company’s largest division, which operates 1,636 centers serving infants through school age; “Champions,” an afterschool science enrichment program and summer camp; and two small preschool providers: Cambridge Schools in Florida, and the Grove School in Texas and North Carolina. The Child Care Marketplace, a one-stop shopping consortium for child care providers, is one of the company’s few noninstruction-based business units.
The vision doesn’t stop at the border. In KU’s grand scheme, the conglomerate isn’t just a collection of disparate brands, but a kind of vertically integrated corporation with global companies working toward a common goal. “What makes us fortunate is the breadth and diversity we have to reach out to educators,” says Yalow, adding that the U.S. program “is constantly being refreshed and upgraded as we are integrating what’s new in research or seeing from our international partners.”
Yalow ticks off a few examples of Knowledge Universe cross-pollination. Some Knowledge Beginnings and CCLC centers are using “smart boards,” an interactive white board, to deliver online content developed by K-12, an online school Knowledge Universe oversees as a majority shareholder. The Grove School and Odyssey, a Singapore based preschool, share an interest in environmental sustainability. Then there is KinderCare’s language immersion program, which started in Pat’s Schoolhouse, a Singapore-based preschool acquired in 2007.
The trans-Pacific currents flow both ways. A study group from Singapore and Malaysia recently toured Knowledge Universe programs in Southern California, and plans to adopt some of the core curriculum developed by the company’s education team in Portland, Yalow says.
A privately held company, Knowledge Universe does not disclose financial information beyond its gross revenues and it is often difficult to get past the company’s ubiquitous corporate messaging, which repeats themes such as “talent, innovation and quality” but leaves out crucial details such as companywide teacher pay and turnover rates. Nevertheless, early childhood education experts familiar with the brands say in many cases the company’s centers live up to the hype.