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EdTech Thoughts 10/10 - 10/16
A lifetime supply of bricks
I hope you enjoyed the two posts (One and Two) on Learning Pods. Working with Jack and Amar pushed me to consider the space in a way I hadn’t when writing about it on my own, so I’d like to do more of them. I’m going to take some time to go through the post data and will return with a plan in early 2023.
On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Zen Educate raises $21M: London-based Zen Educate helps K12 schools recruit and manage their substitute teacher workforce, with plans to expand the full-time teacher workforce. The company plans to use this round to invest in a US go-to-market strategy, where it will compete with tech-enabled solutions like Elevate K12 and more traditional players like Frontline Education and Swing Education
Vanta raises $2.5M: I keep | a | close | eye on the intersection of video games and school (including an angel investment in Ender) because 97% of teenagers play video games, yet most “educational” video games are bad.1 Boston-based Vanta, which organizes esports activities for K12 schools, is not quite solving the educational game content problem, but is at least bringing video games closer to the school system umbrella
Lego acquires Brainpop for $875M: New York-based Brainpop makes short-form educational videos for K12 students in a variety of subjects (getting their start in chemistry before expanding into STEM and beyond). After spending several years buying wax museums, investing in theme parks, and selling $449 collectors-edition Ferraris, this acquisition fits more strongly with Lego’s roots as a children’s toy maker. It sounds like there may be more acquisitions down the line too, as Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp said he had been “challenged by Kirkbi’s owners, the Kirk Kristiansen family, to move beyond the [early-stage] venture-capital model and find a more mature company to invest in or buy”
The Muse acquires Fairygodboss: I wrote about The Muse’s $8M funding round just three weeks ago, calling out that the firm who led the round specializes in roll-up opportunities. It looks like the company is eager to put those dollars to work!
Google acquires Brightbytes: San Francisco-based Brightbytes helped K12 schools with data analytics. It looks like this was an acqui-hire given Brightbytes’ founder and CEO almost immediately transitioned to a leading role in Google’s EDU division
Activity in the Indian Test Prep Market: A reminder that the test preparation market in India is really big and $100M in equity deals can transact in one week without any of the (global) household names involved!
Adda247 raises $35M: New Delhi-based Adda247, which provides study support for 500+ banking, railroad, and government exams, has twenty-two million monthly active users - two million of whom are paid. Like PhysicsWallah (see below for news on them), Adda247 delivers a lower-priced online test prep product targeted at students outside of India’s tier 1 cities
Vedantu acquires Deeksha for $40M: Bengaluru-based Vedantu, which raised $100M last September, provides synchronous online courses to children in grades 6-12 in India. Deeksha provides Vedantu with thirty-nine test physical prep centers to help Vedantu better compete with the rapidly expanding in-person presences of Byju’s and PhysicsWallah
PhysicsWallah acquires PrepOnline and Altis Vortex: Noida-based Physics Wallah, which announced itself to the edtech market with its own $100M fundraise in June, started putting its newfound capital to work this week. Founded by the same two men, PrepOnline provides online test preparation tools for India’s NEET (college admissions) exam while Altis Vortex provides print materials for a variety of Indian exams
There are now one million eighteen-to-twenty-four year olds who have “opted out” and are neither enrolled in college nor working. On some level, I get it! Losing two years of teenage social development to COVID and then being expected to step back onto the treadmill to adulthood sounds hard.2
I am also wary of media articles explaining the academic / professional choices being made by young people. After spending years believing that I, as a millennial, was destined to be a grubby “job hopper”, I learned that the boomers leading the catastrophizing of early-career job changes had job-hopped just as much in their 20s as my generation. I even started writing this “story” with the intent of saying the Newsweek article was a similar girl-who-cried-wolf narrative.
There are a couple reasons this trend is more worrisome:
Opting out is not uniform across populations: Men, particularly black men, are more likely to be opt-outs - 16.7% of all males in this age demographic, including 23% of black males. Brookings provides even more detail on this topic
Opting out is not a gap year: while gap years are way up from the start of the pandemic, the folks counted here are not participating in any structured academic or professional activity. Even among the students who have participated in a gap year program in the past two years, they are not returning to school / work at the same rate they were pre-pandemic
It is hard to read about this group of one million opt-outs and not end up thinking about the thirty-nine million folks with some college but no degree. As Newsweek points out, while there are available job opportunities if opt-outs decide to work, most of these jobs offer little career mobility. Just a year out of high school, these students will have already lost traditional access to college counseling and need to be employed for at least three (but more likely 12+) months before being able to access any employer-driven education benefits. The longer opt-outs remain out of the system, the harder they will be to re-engage.
At best, re-engaging opt outs will be more expensive than working with traditional students. And that is only if schools make it a priority to find and reach out to them specifically. In fairness, we may be seeing some of this among the traditional-age students who are enrolling at online universities like SNHU, WGU, and UMGC.
At worst, we may be adding a large new cohort of people to a some-college-no-degree pool that is already underserved by the current system.
One Interesting Job
Pathstream works with employer partners - including 30+ members of the Fortune 500 - to support the 52.5% of frontline workers who unsuccessfully apply for promotions each year. To do so, they offer a platform that highlights specific career advancement opportunities that leverage existing skills and skill-building training in Salesforce administration, data analytics, and customer relationship management.
Reasons to believe in Pathstream:
Impact: Served 8K+ students with a 75% course completion rate
Access: works with some of the largest and most innovative employers in the world, including Amazon, Meta, Salesforce, and Silicon Valley Bank
Growth: After raising $12M in 2019, company has the user data, variety of clients, and team staffing to test product hypotheses and effect change quickly
If this role at Pathstream sounds like a “heck yes!”, I encourage you to apply for the role and/or forward it to folks in your networks.
This section is NOT sponsored, but it may be in the future. Interested in being a part of the EdTech Thoughts jobs network? Reply to this email to let me know!
Byju’s lays off 2,500: It stinks to read about layoffs at any company, but I’m hopeful this is a step in a more mature direction from Byju’s after a tough start to the year. Of note, the company’s press statement discussed a reallocation of marketing dollars from India towards Global audiences, which gives us something to monitor beyond the company’s now-audited but still murky financial results
Riding the ‘bike bus’ to school: A feel-good story about a PE teacher in Portland who, along with parent chaperones, guides a caravan of 170 students on bicycles to school every Wednesday morning
New approaches to filling course demand: As colleges of all types attempt to re-align their course catalogs to student expectations of online, in-person, and hybrid courses, some are now turning to technology platforms like Acadeum and Unmudl to “share” courses with each other to meet student demand more flexibly
Predicting student performance with click data: Researchers at the University of Virginia sifted through LMS click data to see whether how using it compares to more readily available administrative data like high school and college transcripts. The answer, which is consistent with the first-year focus of many student analytics companies, is that click data is a better predictor of academic success in a student’s first year but not afterwards
Low enrollment driving school budget cuts in NYC: Providing primary source evidence of what a national K12 enrollment crisis could look like, principals at several New York City public schools talked to Chalkbeat about how they plan to maneuver their schools through expected budget cuts after the city’s October 31 reassessment of funding based on enrollment
A new king of the rankings: I find the college rankings industrial complex gross and basically useless to students, but London-based Times Higher Education (THE) received widespread attention for their new rankings system this week. Not for a particularly differentiated ranking methodology, mind you, but rather for a slight rearrangement of top universities that was favorable to China
Question of the Week
Results of last week’s poll: Of note, the results for this poll were much closer (high forties to low fifties, though always in favor of “New brand”) until ~Friday. I’m not sure what that means, but it was fun to watch!
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( ~ 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with a few (hopefully interesting) gut reactions attached. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
If I missed something, or there is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I encourage you to submit a story! Submissions can be named or anonymous
I don’t love that this study is from 2008, but I could not find a more recent study that I liked. If you have seen one, please send it to me!
This piece assumes that going to college is a desirable outcome. I acknowledge this is an imperfect assumption, but do think some form of post-secondary education, ideally degree-granting, is of economic and societal benefit to the vast majority of people. I would be happy to read content that argues otherwise to pressure-test this assumption