Imagine yourself as an 8 year old in 3rd grade in a parallel world, where going to school is not a chore, in fact you cannot wait to get up in the morning to go to school and learn. You have supportive teachers who really know you on a deep level, and collaborate with you on shaping your own education by giving you materials that are of interest to you. You are engaged, you love learning, you are happy.
Welcome to Altschool, a VC backed benefit corporation, startup and community of schools based in San Francisco. The company provides a new model of independent, private K-8 schools, founded by Max Ventilla, tech entrepreneur and former Head of Personalization at Google who believes that a new century education should be personal. The company uses “outstanding teachers, deep research, and innovative technology tools to offer a personalized, whole child learning experience”. The technology is all produced in house (Playlist – on which teachers assign activities to the individual child, parent communication app, teacher networking and collaboration tools etc.) and is supposed to help cut down time spent for admin tasks and enhance quality of education.
Altschool’s use of data is contributing both to the value creation and enhances its operating model. The schools attract progressive parents who want to give their kids a top notch, personalised education, and it all starts with data.
1) During several interviews with the students at the onset of school, every child’s “Learner Portrait” is formed. This catalogues “interests, passions, strengths, opportunities, and learning strategies that work best.” This data collection then serves to form a “Personalized Learning Plan” (PLP), which gets updated quarterly as the teachers get to know students better in order to better tailor specific activities or learning objectives for the child.
2) The micro school network approach that Altschool is taking implies that with more schools on the platform and more data sharing among the constituents (best practices, strategies that work best on particular types of students, types of activities for students that are interested in a particular subject etc.), the better the product will be as teachers and students making up this network will be able to tap into the collective knowledge.
3) Altschool also brings best in class metric driven approach into education, measuring and tracking data about anything and everything that supports their mission. The list is long, but some metrics include teacher/student/parent satisfaction, teacher workload, ease of use of technology tools, gross and net profitability, etc. Most data is collected on a monthly basis, is shared throughout the company, and specific projects to improve priority metrics get implemented as a result.
4) Lastly, feedback from all constituents play an incredible role at improving the product (both education as well as the technological tools through which education is delivered).
Altschool’s use of data is a refreshing take on education where most measurement is on standardized test scores. The company aims to solve important pain points in education, and the only solid way they can do this is by collecting data on important attributes and improving them. The value capture occurs by charging students for this top notch and continuously improving education model ($20K/yr). The advantage they have against competitors who are edtech startups that provide only the technology platform is that they operate schools themselves, have full-stack approach, and as such they get first hand data and are able to iterate on it. The challenge I anticipate for them in the future is about scaling, specifically how to keep the personalized experience as the number of schools as well as student/teacher ratio keep increasing. The data in that case will become even more valuable, but also the distilling and use of the most useful data will be a challenge of its own.