EdTech Thoughts 9/26 - 10/2
The Leads Are Weak
As a heads up, I am planning to run a couple experiments in these last couple months of the year, including my first guest post, which will come next Friday. Updates will continue to come on Sundays and I will continue to be respectful of your inbox, just trying a couple of things out.
I’d appreciate any and all feedback you might have.
On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Ocelot “raises” $117M: While the coverage of this deal framed it as a venture round, a little poking around on the investor K1 Investment Management’s Linkedin and Pitchbook pages suggests that this was more likely a buyout. The unanswered question is how much of the $117M is now on Ocelot’s balance sheet for headcount growth and potential acquisitions
TeachFX raises $10M: Palo Alto-based TeachFX listens to (via cell phone or laptop) and provides feedback on lessons given by K12 teachers. Feedback metrics include things like time spent talking, questions asked + appropriate pauses for response, and use of academic/technical terms that might not be accessible to students. While schools and districts are the buyers of the platform, teachers are the only ones who can see their individualized feedback - administrators are intentionally limited to aggregated views
CoRise raises $8.5M: Founded by a team of ex-Coursera folks, San Francisco-based CoRise sells a library of professional courses to enterprises looking to upskill their employees. While most other professional upskilling platforms focused on building extensive course marketplaces (often with overlapping courses), CoRise will build a small, curated library of courses in-house and, presumably, focus most of their resources on enterprise sales and client satisfaction
Bibliu raises $5.5M: New York-based Bibliu provides access to a large selection of educational resources from different publishers. This tranche of funding is an extension of the $12M round Bibliu announced this summer, likely as protection against the continued turmoil in the broader market. I expect we will see many more extension rounds like this one in the coming months, though they may not all be announced as transparently
Cartwheel raises $4M: Boston-based Cartwheel provides mental health services to K12 schools in Massachusetts, with plans to expand to other states soon. While the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health over two years ago, there is still an unfortunate lack of service providers attempting to solve the problem. Cartwheel does this in two ways: 1) making telehealth services available to K12 schools in a privacy-compliant fashion and 2) making sure said services provided are covered by insurance
As of 2020, there were 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States.1 The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) does not track this, but I’ll estimate that 95% of these institutions offer an Introductory College Algebra course. For prospective students, that means there are - let’s be conservative - 3,500 “accredited” ways to spend a semester tango-ing with quadratic equations.
If your career depended on it, which of the 3,500 options would you choose?
That you and I can answer this question is a sign that there is more nuance to it than whether the school - let alone the course - we choose is accredited or not.
The core context of the article linked to above is that a private company - StraighterLine - is selling courses to students who then transfer them for credit to their respective universities. And that that is a bad thing, mainly because the courses are unaccredited.
What’s more, the article implies that universities have a monopoly on people who know how to teach algebra. A key quote from Higher Ed policy analyst Barmak Nassirian in the article:
“But ... you really have to be very naïve to believe that some outsider can come in and somehow excel at the thing that you are the foremost expert on. The university is supposed to be the foremost expert.”
I agree with this quote! Except that this “foremost expert” on college algebra is probably a small group of real humans, not a generic noun. And that it is silly to pretend that these experts are somehow perfectly spread out across 3500 universities.
Now, this isn’t an argument that StraighterLine or its competitors are the foremost experts. The article’s author, fairly, would have liked to see more student outcomes data than was provided by the company to make a determination on course efficacy.
My point is that a good course can come from anywhere. It is frustrating that rather than building a narrative around all the different options students have available to them, the conversation turns to mud-slinging on accreditation - a term everyone is broadly familiar with, but which has very little meaning in this context.
The US “Mega” universities international plans: If you squint, a pattern is starting to emerge of large-enrollment US universities looking abroad for growth. ASU partnered with Doug Becker for Laureate 2.0.2 SEI acquired Torrens University. And Avenu, who counts SNHU as a major investor alongside Monash University and SEEK, is starting to publicly announce its presence with press releases like the above.
What do we do about the teacher shortage?: So much of today’s conversation on the teaching labor force is on whether there is a shortage of teachers that I stopped writing about it. Rather than jump into that endless debate, Rethink’s Amanda Beaudoin focuses on how we can move forward by taking better care of our teachers
A pragmatic take on student loan forgiveness: Similarly, there is something almost cathartic reading a policy proposal grounded in the reality of today’s education market - no matter the writer’s particular point-of-view. Most notably in the proposal, author Kevin Carey proposes splitting college accountability standards into three segments: 1) short term, job focused programs, 2) traditional undergraduate degrees, and 3) graduate + professional schools
NYC moves back towards merit-based admissions for magnet schools: Gifted and talented programs are a fraught topic of national education discourse after both San Francisco and NYC removed merit admissions from high schools, and then reversed course. Of note, NYC Mayor Eric Adams did not make this decision for a particular ideological reason. Rather, re-instituting merit admissions was “critical to retaining privileged families who will leave the public schools if their children are not placed on campuses they say are equipped to serve them best.”
Student recruitment practices are changing: One of the under-discussed consequences of so many universities going test-optional at the start of COVID is that the business of selling student information - leads - to college admissions departments is changing dramatically. Kaplan’s solution is to throw thirty-thousand dollars at the problem, hoping it will turn up the Glengarry leads
Question of the Week
Y’all have been decisive in the past two polls! Which tells me I need to come up with harder questions…Trying an open response question this week as I continue to play around with the format.
What is an old EdTech company or trend that deserves a comeback?
Results of last week’s poll:
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
This table is a fascinating depiction of the evolution of US HED, but that is a topic for another day
I continue to hope that someone, somewhere is working on a book on the rise and fall of Laureate. The company has a strong case as the most interesting education entity of the past twenty years