EdTech Thoughts 5/23 - 5/29
Wonder Woman's NIL Rights
Last week started out pretty well. I was interviewed for Edsurge piece and had a bunch of new sign-ups (welcome!). At work, one of our startups signed their first customer. A long weekend approached.
Then, 19 children and 2 teachers were murdered in Texas, the 288th school shooting in the US since 2009.
I don’t know much about guns. I don’t want to know much about guns. And yet, guns have forced themselves into the world of education, whether we like it or not.
Unlike most issues in education, there is not a lot of nuance required for this one. Here is a simple ask: in the next 7 days, do one thing to help make schools safer from gun violence and then tell a friend what you did.
Don’t make this complicated, just focus on one thing you can do to make forward progress. If you need ideas, here are a few:
Donate to Everytown
Donate to official fundraisers for families affected by the events in Uvalde
Spend an hour calling voters as gun safety legislation moves towards a vote
On to the remaining, less important news.
Funding / M&A / IPOs
Torch raises $40M: Another fundraise in the mentoring category, one of 2022’s hot spots. Torch’s coaching/mentoring/learning platform focuses on the corporate market, with a value proposition focused on employee retention
Parallel Learning raises $20M: Parallel Learning provides an online platform for assessment and delivery of special education services by qualified providers. It appears that much of the company’s early growth has been on helping schools clear COVID-induced backlogs of students recommended for assessment of learning differences
Knowunity raises $10M: Knowunity is a Berlin-based social studying (studying, not studies) platform. Knowunity’s user experience is student-driven rather than instructor-driven - more like a study hall than an organized classroom. European students are into it - the app has 2.4M users less than 2 years after launching
Learnfully raises $2M: Similar to Parallel Learning, Learnfully is a platform that connects neurodivergent students with appropriate instructors to create personalized, extracurricular (I think) learning plans
Safe School raises $2M: Safe School provides a platform and content to help schools reduce bullying and cyberbullying. Two notable investors contributed to the round - Nir Zohar, president and COO of Wix, and Gal Gadot. No word on whether Wonder Woman’s NIL rights were part of the deal
FoondaMate raises $2M: FoondaMate provides a chatbot (via Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger) that helps students (over 400K in 30 different countries) solve academic problems. This type of chatbot is one of the holy grails of education. However, it is difficult to create due to the decentralized nature of education schools/systems and the scaffolding required to ensure students actually learn the material rather than regurgitating answers. FoondaMate attempts to solve this problem by courting instructors to contribute to the platform’s data model
Zovio sells TutorMe to GoGuardian for $55M: Zovio is the increasingly-troubled online services provider that sold Ashford University to the University of Arizona in 2020. Zovio acquired TutorMe in 2019 to be able to provide tutoring services both in-house and to other educational providers. This deal is a short-term financial win for Zovio, who paid only $6.6M for TutorMe, but it doesn’t seem good for their longer-term growth (TutorMe grew 30% while overall revenue declined 25% last quarter)
Let’s say you are 18 and I offer you a mortgage on a $140K house. It’s a decent house, with good bones - you might have do some repair work over the years, but it will age nicely. It will help you acquire a bigger house in the future if you decide that is what you want.
Now, I’m going to give you two options for how you can pay for this house:
A combination of loans from, on average, 6 different providers, none of whom are particularly interested in managing their “young adult” loan portfolio. You’ll probably have to hold down multiple jobs, but be careful not to make too much money or else you might get disqualified from some of your financial aid options. This may or may not cover your mortgage, but, if you need more, you can also ask your parents to help out. Oh, also. This basically never happens, but you should know that this mortgage will follow you for the rest of your life, even through bankruptcy
A loan that comes directly from the bank giving you the mortgage, which you pay back in proportion to your future income. If you make below $20K/year, you don’t have to make payments, but can keep the house. If you make above $20K/year, you will pay 5% of your income until you’ve paid 250% of the originally assessed house value ($140K) or 10 years of 5% payments, whichever comes first.2
Which mortgage would you rather have?
There are, obviously, important nuances between student loans and mortgages that make this comparison somewhat apples-to-oranges. Most notably, you do not currently have to pay off traditional student loans!
But hopefully you see my point - the current student loan system is batsh*t crazy. So crazy that an unregulated financial product sounds like a pretty good deal in comparison!
To be clear, I am strongly in favor of regulating ISAs and appreciate the Chronicle adding specificity to the discussion around them. I understand that so long as ISAs are not regulated there is potential for bad actors to take advantage of students.
But let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. The US student loan system needs to change. ISAs are one potential option with 30+ years of data we can look to for inspiration.
Unacademy tells employees to focus on profitability: it is not a great time to be an unprofitable software company right now, whether you are publicly-traded or a privately-held startup like Unacademy. I expect we will see more reports like this, particularly among growth and late-stage startups, over the coming months. It is hard to know how long this “winter” will last
Institutions thinking harder about Gen Ed: 75% of University Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) think they are doing a good job with their institution’s General Education program. 32% of those same CAOs believe students understand the purpose of gen ed. I kind of envy their ability to hold both of these positions at once
Gates Foundation promotes Dual Enrollment and Degree programs: One of the most potentially impactful trends in higher ed right now is emphasizing dual enrollment, where high schools students can earn transferable college credits. Gates is one of several education philanthropies setting their sights on this issue
College enrollment drops 4.7%: There is a growing narrative that college students are questioning the value of college. I am skeptical that this is a new, existential threat to universities and not historically consistent with times of high employment rates and relatively high wages
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( < 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with my 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 use '“paperwork” here to illustrate a point, but don’t want to make light of the FAFSA. There has been a lot of commendable effort across policymakers, non-profits, and for-profits to make the FAFSA more accessible, though it is still a challenge for many students
These are the real terms of Purdue’s ISA program. Many ISA programs are significantly more generous than this