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ETCH Weekend Reading 9/17/23
Byju's, Bio-banding, Blue Meridian, Bootcamps, and B2B
No announcements from me this week, on to the links!
Funding / M&A
ELSA raises $23M / US, Language Learning / UOB Venture Management, UniPresident, Aozora Bank, Vietnam Investments Group, Development Bank of Japan, Gradient Ventures, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Global ventures
Mathpresso raises $8M / South Korea, Tutoring / KT, Google, GGV Capital, Goodwater Capital, Softbank
Correcto raises €6.5M / Spain, Language Learning / Octopus Ventures, Carya Venture Partners, River Park Ventures
Swap Language raises $2.15M / Denmark, Language Learning / Mediahuis Ventures, Sparkmind
Databits raises $600K / Ecuador, Upskilling / 500 LatAm, Buentrip Hub, Stonks Fund, BVC, Telefunken Capital, CREAS Ecuador, Winnipeg Capital.
Melissa Loble joins Instructure as Chief Academic Officer / via StreetInsider
How soaring childcare costs are crushing New Yorkers. “A New York City family would have to make more than $300,000 a year to meet the federal standard for affordability.” / via New York Times
Enrollment continues to decline at many large public school districts. This is a trend I have been concerned about for several years. Combined with the continued growth of students enrolled in K12 alternatives, it spells trouble for the US public school system. / via 74Million
Related, US schools face a funding cliff, but it is unclear how steep a cliff it will be. / via Chalkbeat
Also related: Whiteboard Advisors notes, correctly, that while the media (including me) may talk about the funding cliff as a national problem, any solutions to it are most likely to be local. / via Whiteboard Advisors
Arizona re-allocates $70M in ESSER Tutoring funding. Of note, organizations that can prove their services made an impact on academic achievement will continue to receive their agreed-upon funding. / via 74Million
Sweden brings more books and handwriting practice back to its tech-heavy schools. I don’t know where we’ll end up on the analog to tech-heavy spectrum, but would love to hear theories. / via Washington Post
Bio-banding: Sports’ attempt to stop talent drain of stars with late-maturing bodies. Many EdTech old hands remember, and are scarred by, the wave of “personalization” tools in the early-mid 2010s. I am excited by this next wave — though it may spawn questionable jargon like “bio-banding”, this trend focuses on using software to rigorously assess where children are in their development timelines rather than simply grouping them by birth year or school year. / via The Athletic
Related, unraveling the drivers of Mississippi’s reading “miracle.” / via Washington Post Opinion
On the other hand, the value of one-size-fits-all math homework. I try to be open-minded about most things, especially when folks bring research to back up their claims. However, I refuse to believe this is the future. / via Hechinger Report
What would it mean to abolish the Department of Education? “National figures’ promising to abolish the Department (and then not doing so) has been a staple of GOP politics and party platforms for four decades.” A more manageable, though less quotable, goal for GOP candidates might be “continue to let the Higher Education Act languish on temporary extensions.” / via Education Next
Making credit hours a relic of the past. It is hard to articulate why moving beyond the credit hour is important without getting wonky, but it is a big deal that name-brand organizations like ETS, Carnegie, and now Emerson are throwing their weight behind the effort. / via 74Million
Blue Meridian Partners donates $124M to support enrollment growth and sustainability at HBCUs. / via Wall Street Journal
“There was definitely a thumb on the scale to get boys.” Sort of a clickbait-y headline to what is a complicated and important problem. Shoutout to Reach Capital’s Jennifer Carolan for calling attention to it well in advance of the national media. / via New York Times
UT bets big on microcredentials. / via Inside Higher Ed
Colorado College aims to be the most woke. I’ve been hard on US universities for their lack of vision. Regardless of whether you agree with the principle, I actually think this is a great example of a school differentiating itself. / via Chronicle of Higher Education
Dartmouth men’s basketball applies to the NLRB to unionize. I believe that revenue-generating college athletes should, and will, be paid, but it feels a little odd that Dartmouth would be the school that leads the charge? / via the Athletic
The Financial Times doesn’t like bootcamps. Apparently called “upskilling programmes” in the Queen’s English (is it the King’s English now?). The FT covers most of the main criticisms of bootcamps, but their evidence is mostly anecdata. / via Financial Times
“Feedback” is canceled. Honestly, this brought a tear to my eye. It’s over, the war is won. Gen Z has defeated the boomers, and we can all go find a rooftop pool to sip Big Gulps by. / via Wall Street Journal and Business Insider
Kids, when you negotiate in public, make sure it is from a position of strength.
On Monday (9/11), Bloomberg reported that Byju’s had offered a debt repayment plan to the creditors of their $1.2B 2021 loan. Byju’s creditors were not quoted in the report. / via Bloomberg (paywalled) and Associated Press (not paywalled)
On Tuesday (9/12), Bloomberg reported that Byju’s had invested $533M of a $1.2B loan WITH A 23-YEAR-OLD OPERATING FROM AN IHOP IN MIAMI. This is not clever repartee. This is a real thing that Bloomberg, a news source of some repute, reported in all seriousness and which Byju’s did not deny. Instead, Byju’s quibbled, “There is also no requirement for Byju’s to maintain cash as collateral. As a commercially prudent borrower, Byju’s Alpha has made investments in fixed-income assets like any other large corporate treasury.” In laymen’s terms, a multi-billion dollar, global corporation argued that they were within their rights to park $500M+ of borrowed cash with any pancake house patrons they felt like. / via Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the timing of these reports was not a coincidence. And it actually doesn’t matter whether these reports are true (though it appears they are). The point here is Byju’s tried to negotiate in public - as they have been trying, and failing, to do for the past 18 months - and their creditors, figuratively, flipped them the bird. / via me/ETCH
Reach Capital’s guide to Generative AI. Founders/operators, pay particular attention to slides 17-19; these questions are the meat and potatoes of building a compelling AI-enabled product! / via Reach Capital
Here’s how Physics Wallah solved the EdTech riddle and is now aiming for growth. “Solving the riddle” is a bit rich, but this is a fun origin story to read and a helpful reminder that several of India’s bigger EdTech companies started as YouTubers. We haven’t seen this trend as much in the US, but I am curious if the model will spread to other geographies beyond India. / via BusinessToday Magazine
B2B segment emerges from the shadows as [Indian] EdTech startups diversify their offerings. A keen observer of the EdTech ecosystem once told me, “If I had a nickel for every startup that pivoted to B2B, I could buy a cozy studio in Manhattan.”1
This email, EdTech Thoughts Weekend Reading, is the free sister publication of the EdTech Thoughts Weekly Update. It provides links to the week’s EdTech Funding, M&A, People moves, and a curated list of Links to relevant industry news. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
As is hopefully clear from this newsletter, I spend a lot of my time reading. Often, this starts with articles about EdTech, but it usually also includes between 1 and 4 books.
Should you find yourself looking for a good book (both education and general interest), you can see many of my favorites here!
Also, if you have any book recommendations, I’d love to hear them!
Image of the Week
I love this genre of art - the style is something that only an algorithm could come up with, but it catches our eye because of the thoughtfulness of the human who wrote the generative AI prompt that created it.
I’m paraphrasing slightly, but this person did make the general B2C —> B2B point, and it has stuck with me ever since!