Transforming the traditional K-12 education supply chain
K-12 education has historically relied on a factory model to deliver learning to students. Classrooms are comprised of a fixed number of students who interface with teachers to access knowledge and engage with learning concepts. The flow of knowledge is determined by educators – teachers and administrators – who decide what is relevant to students and how material can be taught. Global education systems have come under significant pressure in responding to the demands of burgeoning youth populations with dynamic educational requirements. As classrooms become more crowded and as budgets dwindle, K-12 educators struggle to meaningfully engage students in maximizing learning outcomes .
According to the CollegeBoard, only 46% of SAT test-takers graduating in 2017 are ready to enrol in and succeed in entry-level college courses . The factory model of K-12 education has created wide student achievement gaps. The Clayton Christensen Institute highlights that “traditional teaching constrains teachers to one-size-fits-all lessons and pacing that make it hard to meet students’ individual needs” . New technologies are allowing educators to reexamine the traditional factory model and to engage students in individualized and personalized learning by optimizing the pace of learning and tailoring the teaching approach to fit the needs of each student .
AltSchool: personalizing learning
AltSchool is leading the global conversation in personalized learning by pioneering micro-schools to deliver new learning methods and technologies to students. Founded in 2014 by Max Ventilla, AltSchool currently runs lab schools from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade. The company seeks to disrupt traditional K-12 structures by providing project-based learning opportunities to students. AltSchool’s nine technology-heavy grade schools allow students to drive learning outcomes by accessing knowledge and material based on individual interests . The company has garnered significant investor attention, having recently raised $175m from investors including Mark Zuckerberg .
Ventilla and his team are currently in the process of developing educational technology and establishing micro-schools to test their personalized learning model. AltSchool has already developed nine schools across California and New York, and is in the process of engaging charter schools and private K-12 institutions, both locally and globally, as partners in a pilot program over the next year. The company relies heavily on engineering talent, seeking to match each teacher to an engineer to facilitate individualized learning.
In the long-term, AltSchool aims to transform the K-12 education supply chain by establishing itself both as an educational software services company and as an education management company that operates physical schools. To make its technologies accessible to a broad range of educational contexts, AltSchool is also devising pricing structures that would allow public and private K-12 institutions to pilot personalized learning technologies.
Taking the next step
AltSchool has garnered significant press coverage in recent months following its successful fundraising activities. To truly activate itself as a change agent for traditional K-12 education, the company should focus its efforts on:
- Measuring outcomes from existing pilots: AltSchool’s potential customers, particularly within the public education context, would require demonstrated impact from personalized learning methods and technologies. AltSchool is well positioned to use its pilot programs as control environments for testing personalized learning methodologies.
- Building a scalable model: As part of its beta-testing phase for educational software development, AltSchool would be well-advised to engage a variety of educational institutions as pilot schools (public, private, charter, international). Technologies will require customization based on the end-user, and as such, AltSchool would benefit from incorporating these diverse requirements into its software design process at an early stage.
The need for a refreshed model to engage K-12 students in the classroom is clear, but the question remains as to how effective technology is as a means to boosting learning outcomes. In its early years, AltSchool will have to reliably demonstrate the efficacy of personalized learning technologies, both within its own schools and within external partner schools. Moreover, AltSchool has made a conscious strategic decision to establish itself as both an education operator and a software development company and thus play in two components of the educational supply chain. Recent concerns have materialized over the company’s ability to perform both activities, as evidenced by Ventilla’s decision to close down several micro-schools . Can a software developer create commercially viable educational platforms while simultaneously operating its own physical schools?
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 Adam Satariano, “AltSchool, backed by Mark Zuckerberg and other high-profile tech investors, is scaling back and shutting a school as losses pile up,” Bloomberg Technology, November 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.