Through all the headlines on the challenges facing schools, teachers and parents, there has always been broad interest and support for effective and cost efficient educational products. Schools have always boasted significant budgets for curriculum, professional development and technology, and many parents have long been willing to pay for tutoring services to supplement their children’s education. More recent has been the (re)discovery of the “edtech” market by Silicon Valley and with such, a new swarm of start-ups has spilled forth into K-12 education, with the steady drum beat from the venture community’s rear detachment of tech media (see here on Business Insider or here on Forbes).
Weary of how such hype can misdirect the resources of schools and teachers, our not-for-profit network at Educelerate, Inc. seeks to support sustainable education innovation for the rest of the country. With nearly 5,000 members across our regional meetups spanning the Midwest, Mountains and South West, Educelerate has drawn from community leaders to assemble our own “listicle” of leading edtech start-ups that are delivering real impact at scale.
This first in our series focuses on start-ups making innovative use of data and analytics, proving that AI in Education was not invented by Silicon Valley.
GoGuardian (Los Angeles)
As told to Qiana Patterson, noted education company executive and leader of Educelerate LA, with each new student device deployed across our country’s growing number of 1:1 classrooms, keeping students focused and engaged becomes more complex. And that’s where GoGuardian comes in: with a suite of easy to use tools for teachers, admins, and even superintendents, this Los Angeles startup streamlines technology management to help educators do what they do best: teach.
The company has continued to grow from its first product to provide school IT staff with a suite of customizable filters and other tools to help ensure that their students were safer online. To complement this platform and give teachers better tools for managing their own classrooms, GoGuardian built an educator-facing product for teachers to create classrooms, keep an eye on student web activity and even open and close websites or fully lock student devices for eyes-up-front focus. Other products include an Chromebook asset management system as well as a free tool providing district-wide usage analytics of student web activity, helpful in gauging the effectiveness and adoption rates of education apps and websites.
GoGuardian was founded in 2014 by fellow UCLA grads CEO Aza Steel and CTO Advait Shinde and has over 3,000 schools and districts around the world using their products to protect, gauge, monitor, and guide student activity on school-owned iOS and Chrome devices.
The Chicago-based team at Otus would echo our views of the edtech market, describing how it has bombarded educators with one-off tools designed to help them complete a single learning or classroom management task:
“ClassDojo lets teachers track student behavior, Remind allows them to text parents, and LMSs, well, ‘manage’ learning. And let’s not forget about all of the assessment data that is supposed to inform instructional decisions.”
The Otus Student Performance Platform is a single system that would let teachers, administrators, parents, and students both consolidate the number of different (and disconnected) edtech tools they use each day into a common platform while also integrating data from third-party assessments that typically sit in a lonely data warehouse. As a result, their freemium app has seen 250% user growth year-over-year and their initial push ahead of a January roll-out of premium accounts already counts several dozen Chicagoland area districts as clients. In the end, Otus lets all stakeholders have an authentic, holistic, picture of student growth.
As told to one of their angel investors Christopher Nyren, also the founder of Educelerate, the Chicago-based LearnMetrics is now in over 150 schools since launching in 2012. Their co-founder and CEO Julian Miller had noted the shift in education’s infrastructure from analog to digital and with it, the millions of data-points created every day about learners, learning, and our education system. The problem he noted was that these data sets are currently unused, underused, or misused because schools and districts resort to building their own data systems, managing from Excel, or cobbling together workarounds.
Despite the lack of solutions currently available, educators are still expected to use learning data to inform their strategies for instruction in the classroom and to evaluate school performance at-large. As their CEO noted:
“If we want GPS-quality results, we need to stop handing out roadmaps to our educators. Educators need to quickly derive clear and actionable insights from learning data and focus their energy back where it belongs, on the students.”
Learnmetrics is the most advanced data management and workflow program of its kind. Miller further added “our team is on a mission to turn learning data into fuel for success, and we’re committed to partnering with school and district leaders who demand greater clarity and context when it comes to gathering and analyzing their learning data.”
Another start-up operating from the middle of our country helping to unlock data for schools is SchoolRunner in Denver. As told to Graham Forman, edtech angel investor and co-leader of EdTechCO, Schoolrunner is a modern operating system for schools and has grown by word of mouth to serve almost 40,000 students across 11 states. Most educators lack easy access to critical data that would allow them make better decisions about how to spend their precious time. With built-in dashboards and analytics, Schoolrunner guides schools down their journey to data-informed decision making. Schoolrunner goes above and beyond what the SIS can capture, drawing data from two key categories:
- Academics: Schoolrunner makes sure every teacher knows where the gaps are in their students’ learning. Common strategies like using small-group instruction, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and Data Teams to help students are predicated on educators having the critical data at their fingertips to inform their decision-making process. Administrators can get transparency they need to spot problems early across all their schools and classrooms.
- School Culture: No one succeeds based on academic knowledge alone. That’s why Schoolrunner has baked-in support for helping schools reinforce their core cultural values reliably and consistently. Whether it’s Grit, Teamwork, and Joy or Achievement, Responsibility, and Perseverance, Schoolrunner School Happiness Coordinators make sure that each school’s culture is reflected in the tools they use. Plus parents and students get their own logins so they can easily keep up with what teachers are seeing in class on a regular basis.
As told to one of their investors Christopher Nyren, ScheduleSmart is helping to support states’ move towards pathway-focused curriculum to improve educational outcomes and returns on educational investment. State-defined and student-selected pathways are designed to offer more focused coursework and certification selections to better prepare high school graduates for entry into the workforce or post-secondary educational institutions. There are several tools available today to help students select the best pathway programs for them.
However, as noted by their CEO Michael Sayre:
“Until, now, there have been no automated data-driven tools for students to select, change or modify their pathways; recommend and schedule the next courses they need to take in their pathways; monitor their progress along the way to completion of their pathways; report on any of the above to the counselors, schools, districts or states; and share data with the schools existing student information system (SIS). Manual tracking of all of this in spreadsheets and makeshift tools can be a nightmare for school administrators.”
ScheduleSMARTPAC (Pathways and Careers) software does all of the above and was just rolled out within the broader ScheduleSMARTTM suite of SaaS offerings from its parent company Capture Education. Capture is based in Columbus, Ohio and is licensed by over 60 schools, including the New York City DOE and Houston ISD. (Note: Christopher Nyren is an investor in Capture Education).