Education startup AltSchool, one of the leaders in the movement to individualize instruction using technology, said today that it will expand to serve 19 new partner schools in 2018-19. In addition, AltSchool will continue to serve its six existing partner schools, including two public schools that began piloting its technology in 2017-18.
AltSchool, which has raised over $173 million from investors including venture firm Andreessen Horowitz and Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic organization, launched in 2013 as a network of owned-and-operated private lab schools. The company envisioned growing that network of schools, while simultaneously building technology capable of supporting schools of any shape or size. In the years since, AltSchool has shifted its focus, opting to consolidate its lab school locations while investing more heavily in its learning platform.
There are a number of education consulting firms, such as Mastery Design Collaborative and Education Elements, that work with schools interested in making the transition to personalized learning. There are also subject-specific tools available that personalize the pace of learning within math or reading, using adaptive content. AltSchool’s vision, in contrast, is to serve as an operating system for schools. Its platform organizes lessons into “cards” and creates a customizable framework for goal-setting and evaluation, effectively solving the practical challenges associated with personalized learning while giving teachers the freedom to use their own curricular materials.
“The idea is to put the learner at the center of the movement, tied to personalized and contextualized experiences where they can learn at their own rate,” says Devin Vodicka, AltSchool’s chief impact officer. “Educators are highly motivated to engage in this work, but it’s hard to do it alone. It’s also hard to do it without the right tools and resources that are being developed in our lab schools.”
Now, for the first time, AltSchool will have thousands of students using its platform. Partners range from private schools serving affluent communities similar to AltSchool’s own lab schools, to public schools serving low-income communities. Vodicka, a former superintendent, hopes to positive results in each new school environment. “The first groups of teachers are finding that they’re saving time and able to better develop better relationships with their learners as a result,” he says. “That’s leading to higher levels of learner engagement overall.”
David Vannasdall, superintendent of Arcadia Unified School District in southern California, implemented an AltSchool a pilot with a dozen teachers last school year. This year, he plans to expand to 150 teachers. “Once the teachers saw it, they all wanted in,” he says—despite the upfront work associated with adapting lessons to better fit the AltSchool model.
According to Vannasdall, by orienting learning around individualized goals, and then offering students the opportunity to reflect on their progress, AltSchool gives teachers the means to leave behind the drill-focused assessment era that began under 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act. Back then, he says, “You’d finish and move on, you just had to get through it. But it’s much better to go deeper, and allow our students time to investigate, iterate, and fail.”