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In Their Own Words: What Students Want From Ed-Tech Products

EdWeek Market Brief talked with two tech-savvy students about where digital products meet their needs, and fall short.

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Inside One Education Company’s Efforts to Organize a Product Around Learning Recovery

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is one of many companies across the K-12 market that has sought to create products to help districts address academic remediation for students who have fallen behind during COVID.

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Education Companies Swept Up in Idaho Panel’s Search for ‘Indoctrination’ in Learning Materials

A task force assembled by Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor has objected to the work of two well-known education companies among a long list of materials it says are promoting the “indoctrination” of students on issues of race and gender.

Both AVID, a nonprofit professional development provider, and EL Education, a nonprofit curriculum provider, were included in a list of examples published last week. The task force said the materials were gathered from district websites, parent submissions, and public records requests.

Members took issue with AVID and EL Education’s statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the antiracist resources they offer teachers.

Idaho’s State Board of Education quickly rebuked task force’s claims, saying in a statement that the board found no evidence of indoctrination in the state’s schools.

But the situation shows the difficult position education companies could find themselves in.

Many companies in the K-12 market have seen demand rise for curriculum and other products that address issues of racial equity and inclusion. Teachers are seeking out resources that help them discuss current events, such as the killing of George Floyd and protests over police conduct, as well as broader explorations of the history of racial discrimination in the United States.

At the same time, Republican state lawmakers are pushing back against new approaches to addressing racism, sexism, and issues of equality and justice in the classroom.

An Education Week analysis found that 26 states have introduced bills this year that would limit how teachers can discuss those topics, or restrict teaching critical race theory — a decades-old academic concept that sees racism as a social construct, embedded in legal systems and policies.

In Idaho, state lawmakers approved a measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Brad Little that prohibits funding schools that teach students that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is “inherently superior or inferior.”

In a statement, EL Education defended its focus on diversity, saying there are broad benefits to students receiving access to an inclusive curriculum.

“The science of learning and development tells us that students who have a sense of belonging in school learn more,” EL Education spokesperson Alexandra Fenwick-Moore said in an email. “Our curriculum strives to ensure that students see themselves reflected in the content.”

New District Demands

AVID and EL Education are far from the only education company prioritizing equity and taking a public stand against systemic racism.

In an EdWeek Market Brief survey conducted in May, nearly half of the 232 participating education company officials (49 percent) said their organizations had taken a public stand on issues of systemic racism, an increase from 31 percent in the fall. And 49 percent said they had reassessed their product offerings to look for areas of explicit or implicit bias.

The change appears to be driven by district demand. Forty-six percent of company officials surveyed said they have fielded questions from their existing and prospective district clients about how their products account for or serve diverse student populations. In October, just 22 percent said the same.

Nine percent of the businesses surveyed they had specifically lost a sale, or a customer relationship, because their products did not foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, up from 4 percent last fall.

Impact of Task Force Unclear

The 16-member Idaho task force, which includes state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, was launched by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin in April to “protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism,” according to a press release.

Along with screenshots of EL Education and AVID materials, the group’s list of concerning materials included everything from specific assignments to a job description for an equity team leader in Boise School District to a copy of the state’s required teaching certification standards with the term “culturally responsive” underlined to highlight its frequency.

It’s unclear how much power the group will have in potentially changing the state’s education policy. The State Department of Education was not invited to participate, a spokesperson said, but they are “watching and listening.”

McGeachin, who is currently running for governor, has found herself at odds with state leadership before. In May, Gov. Little accused her of abusing her power for a “self-serving political stunt” after she put in place a mask-mandate prohibition while Little, who had supported masks as a COVID-era health measure, was out of town.

Any recommendations the task force makes to state officials or the legislature will be made public, said Jordan Watts, chief of staff for McGeachin.

Neither EL Education nor AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) have backed away from their equity work in response.

Lynn Kepp, a spokesperson for AVID, said the company’s work is unrelated to what the Idaho task force is trying to find because they don’t provide classroom curriculum. They offer professional learning that help educators prepare students for college or careers after high school.

“We have 77 optional offerings that school and district leaders can choose from to find the right fit for their educators,” Kepp said in an email. “The materials included in the task force’s list would not appear in a classroom but rather in voluntary professional learning courses.”

When asked for their response, EL Education released a statement detailing the high ratings their curriculum has received from independent reviewers and evaluators, including an “all green” in every category from reviewer EdReports. The company has worked with schools in every state for more than 28 years, the statement said.

“All students need an education that equips them to grow up and thrive in jobs and communities with people who may have different backgrounds,” the statement said. “EL Education is proud of our highly celebrated curriculum.

“Students engage in meaningful learning about key topics, including the history and cultures that have contributed to our current strength and our nation’s ability to thrive in the future.”

Photo of Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin by John Roark /The Idaho Post-Register via AP.

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The Ed-Tech Product Features and Support Parents Can’t Live Without

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced more companies to consider how useful their classroom tech is to parents — not just teachers.

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K-12 Dealmaking: GoGuardian Acquires Formative Assessment Platform; Tutoring Startup Becomes Europe’s Latest Unicorn

GoGuardian, which provides a suite of classroom management and student safety solutions, has acquired Edulastic, the companies announced this week.

Edulastic describes itself as a next-generation formative online assessment platform that helps teachers quickly identify learning gaps, give students differentiated assignments to meet individual learning needs, and monitors students’ progress on the way to standards mastery.

The acquisition will advance Los Angeles-based GoGuardian’s mission to create the “ultimate learning platform,” the announcement says.

“Gauging student understanding is a vital element of effective teaching and learning. The Edulastic team has created sophisticated, data-driven solutions that provide teachers with real-time, actionable insights that support great teaching and improved outcomes,” GoGuardian co-founder and CEO Advait Shinde said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to welcome the talented Edulastic team into the GoGuardian family.”

The companies estimate that the acquisition will allow their combined platform to reach one out of three K-12 students nationwide. GoGuardian already serves over 20 million students in more than 14 million schools, and Edulastic is used by more than 9 million students at more than 19,000 schools, according to the announcement.

“Since our founding, Edulastic has been on a mission to deliver insights that help teachers teach and help students learn,” Edulastic co-founder and CEO Madhu Narasa said in a statement. “GoGuardian is a natural fit that will accelerate our mission and expand our ability to serve educators, now and long into the future.”

The acquisition was led by GoGuardian and Sumeru Equity Partners, a technology-focused growth capital firm that first invested in GoGuardian in 2018. Edulastic is backed by early-stage venture capital firm Primera Capital.

Austrian tutoring startup announces investment, ‘unicorn’ status. After receiving a $244.4 million Series C investment led by DST Global, GoStudent announced it is Europe’s latest ed-tech unicorn and the highest-valued ed-tech company in Europe, according to an announcement.

The company is now valued at $1.7 billion, or €1.4 billion.

GoStudent, which is based in Vienna and provides one-to-one video-based online tutoring, also saw investments this round from SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Tencent, Dragoneer, Coatue, Left Lane Capital, and DN Capital.

The investment will be used to drive global expansion, according to the announcement. GoStudent is currently used in 15 countries, has expanded its team to more than 500 employees, and has opened 12 new offices, adding new locations in Athens, Istanbul, and Amsterdam.

The company aims to be present in over 20 countries by the end of 2021, planning to launch in Canada and Mexico this summer, and also intends to invest in branding, product development, and company acquisitions. GoStudent will also double its team to over 1,000 employees this year, the company said.

GoStudent grows by a rate of approximately 30 percent month-over-month, according to the announcement.

“At the heart of GoStudent is our mission to build the No. 1 Global School,” GoStudent co-founder and CEO Felix Ohswald said in a statement. “The new investment and the resulting opportunities for continued international growth bring us one step closer to fulfilling our mission.”

Apax Digital Fund invests in Revolution Prep. Private equity firm Apax Digital Fund will invest in online tutoring platform Revolution Prep, Apax announced.

The announcement doesn’t give a specific figure, but refers to the infusion as a “growth investment” that will allow Revolution Prep to expand its offering and increase access to world-class online tutoring.

The investment will enable Revolution Prep to make professional tutors available to more students in the U.S. and beyond, the announcement says. Over 1 million families have used the service.

“The pandemic has accelerated the shift from traditional to online learning and we’re continuing to see strong demand even as society is re-opening,” Revolution Prep CEO Matt Kirchner said in a statement. Apax Digital’s “investment will support an acceleration of our key growth priorities, including scaling up the more affordable small group tutoring format and the strategic expansion into the middle school tutoring segment, supporting families earlier in their academic journeys.”

Apax Digital Fund was attracted by Revolution Prep’s “cutting-edge” technology platform, longstanding partnerships with schools, and breadth and expertise of its tutors, Marcelo Gigliani, managing partner of Apax Digital said in a statement.

Lincoln International was the exclusive financial adviser to Revolution Prep in connection with the transaction.

ETS Strategic Capital and GSV Ventures invest in Degreed. Princeton, N.J.-based ETS Strategic Capital, the venture capital arm of research and assessment organization ETS, is joining GSV Ventures to invest in Degreed, a workforce upskilling company used by about one in three Fortune 50 companies, according to an announcement.

The investment is aimed to continue to advance and grow ETS’s educational business and mission through high-growth dealmaking, the announcement says.

San Francisco-based Degreed received a $153 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures and Riverwood Capital in April.

“Our investment in Degreed will help us to continue to leverage high-growth companies who are aligned to the business and mission of ETS and grow globally as an organization,” Ralph Taylor-Smith, managing director of ETS Strategic Capital, said in a statement. “The corporate learning, workforce development and reskilling/upskilling sector is a key new business growth area for ETS.”

The announcement cites a study by Statistia showing that $82.5 billion was invested in workplace training in the U.S. in 2020.

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Connect Students Online, Boost Your Country’s Gross Domestic Product?

Expanding and improving internet connectivity for schools can have a positive impact reaching beyond improving students’ access to information.

A new analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit released earlier this year finds that closing the digital divide in education can boost a country’s economy. Even simply increasing the speed of broadband for school buildings can lead to gains in a country’s gross domestic product, the authors of the report contend.

The researchers say that a quality internet connection, when used well, leads to improved academic results, which then produce higher salaries that support a healthier economy.

A 10 percent increase in school connectivity can increase the effective years of schooling for children by 0.6 percent, and raise the GDP per capita of a country by 1.1 percent, the analysis found.

“The biggest takeaway is the massive amount of potential that school connectivity has to close gaps that exist not just in education but in communities and beyond,” said Shivangi Jain, an EIU public policy consultant and lead economist.

“It gives children all over the world access to basically the same information… I don’t think any other approach has quite that same potential.”

Having access to the internet provides students a “wealth of resources” and enables new forms of learning, including through adaptive learning platforms, the report says, which plays a role in improving the quality of education students receive globally.

“Improved learning outcomes proliferate through adolescence and adulthood, leading to a wider range of higher education and career opportunities,” the report said. “Ultimately, these benefits to individuals are reflected in terms of higher incomes, better health and improved overall well-being.”

Basic Access Not Enough

However, Jain, one of the report’s authors, said governments and schools need to take steps to ensure the new connectivity is being used to its full potential, including by prioritizing digital learning education policy and overcoming barriers to integration, such as building infrastructure or obtaining devices. Access also needs to be affordable and high quality in terms of speed and reliability, the report said.

In the United States, 99 percent of schools are connected to fiber infrastructure, according to the report. But the quality of connection varies greatly among states and areas. Improving the bandwidth per student at schools nationwide to meet the country’s highest standard would increase the GDP by as much as 5.5 percent, according to the report.

In developing countries, connecting schools to the internet could have a more immediate impact on the wider community by enabling local entrepreneurship, introducing the gig economy, and providing access to online banking and improved emergency communications.

The report was sponsored by UNICEF and comes two years after the organization launched an initiative to connect every school to the internet. Globally, two-thirds of children between the ages of 3 or 17 — 1.3 billion — don’t have access to the internet.

It also comes after the U.S. approved $7 billion in federal aid for improved internet connectivity, spurred in part by the gaps in access that were spotlighted during the pandemic and schools’ abrupt pivot to remote learning. That funding, approved as part of the stimulus measure signed into law by President Biden, focus specifically on increasing students’ access to reliable internet services at home.

“This is the moment to be discussing this,” Jain said. “Children need access to connectivity regardless of where they are, and the pandemic really highlighted that … or at least enables people to see what [connectivity] can offer.”

Photo: AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

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How One Company Adapted Its PD for COVID and Beyond: A Case Study

Achieve3000’s efforts during the pandemic offer a window into how education businesses have sought to overhaul support for teachers to suit virtual environments.

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ETS Acquires English Language Learning Test Assets for Japan

ETS announced this week that it acquired the testing assets of its longtime partner in providing English language learning tests in Japan, the Council on International Educational Exchange.

With the purchase, the nonprofit based in Princeton, N.J., will establish a new subsidiary, ETS Japan, to take over the operations and support services provided in the country.

The move supports the organization’s interest in growing internationally by establishing its own footprint in Japan, said Ralph Taylor-Smith, Managing Director of ETS Strategic Capital, the investment arm of the research and assessment entity. For the last 40 years, ETS tests and other products have been administered in Japan through CIEE.

“We already have business in the country,” Taylor-Smith said in an interview. “But this allows us now to start to expand our global reach, and really gives us a footprint to start to build other areas… Having people on the ground really gives us that local presence and local reach.”

Founded in 1947, ETS is one of the best-known providers of testing in the United States and abroad. Their tests include statewide summative exams, graduate-school entry tests, and tests of English-language proficiency.

With the acquisition, the company will work to provide a complete experience for students, according to an ETS press release, including helping students prepare for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exams and GRE graduate school entry exam.

Taylor-Smith declined to reveal the total cost of the TOEFL acquisition deal.

This is the latest in a string of purchases and investments for ETS Strategic Capital, which was announced in September 2020 with a portfolio of five companies. The venture capitalist arm of ETS now has a portfolio with closer to 10 companies, Taylor-Smith said.

EdWeek Market Brief previously reported that the investment arm’s M&A deals were expected to range from $20 million to $200 million in size, and its equity investments could run from $1 million to $20 million.

The ETS program’s growth comes as venture capital investment in education surged. Investors put more than $16 billion into ed tech in 2020, according to a report by HolonIQ. That’s roughly double the amount put forward in 2018.

Photo:  David Davies/PA Wire via AP

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What State and Local Ed Tech Directors Worry About as Schools Return to In-Person Learning

The new executive director of the organization representing the state’s ed tech directors says teachers will need myriad forms of support as their schools return more fully to face-to-face instruction.

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Big Gaps Remain in Students’ Home Internet Access, Survey Reveals

When the pandemic forced schools to close last year, every student at Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Ohio already had a device, and most had access to the internet at home. As a result, the district’s director of technology, Mike Daugherty, was cautiously optimistic that they were well prepared for remote learning.

He quickly learned that having access to the internet and having the ability for an entire family to join hours-long video conferences were two different things. In many cases, when students’ connectivity fell short, Daugherty was left to urge families to upgrade their service.

While the country moves toward connecting more households to the internet than ever before, insufficient bandwidth remains a challenge for school districts and limits what tools students can use at home. A survey of 400 districts newly released by the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, underscores that basic access to the internet is not the barrier in many households – it’s an inability to use bandwidth-intensive content, such as video conferencing and streaming, that many districts would like to make a part of students’ lessons.

The survey of association members, who are district IT leaders, released last month found that 94 percent of districts faced challenges with videoconferencing during remote learning. For most of those districts (66 percent) the problems were caused by insufficient bandwidth. Respondents listed slow connections and multiple users as the top technical problems they faced.

“We saw that over and over again where a family was working from home due to COVID and they’re all on a generic, basic internet connection and nobody can get anything done,” Daugherty said. “That was such a struggle for us.”

Part of the problem is that the federally recommended broadband thresholds for households don’t meet the needs of remote learning, said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger. Families may have plenty of bandwidth to stream or download content, he said, but not enough to upload. And most households have two or more students, compounding the problem.

Inequities Persist

The experience has caused digital equity to rank as a top concern among districts’ IT leaders. Nearly all the survey respondents (97 percent) said concerns about quality of students’ home access increased. And the number of districts providing off-campus services doubled compared to the year before, reaching 95 percent.

Equity will certainly be on the minds of district leaders as they decide what educational technology to use moving forward, Krueger said.

“The good news is [bandwidth is] better in schools,” he said. Yet, “from a vendor perspective, they are going to have to think more inclusively.”

Inside school buildings, districts have made huge strides toward improving internet access. According to the survey, the majority of responding districts (61 percent) met the FCC’s long-term broadband goal, set in 2014. Three years ago, fewer than a third of districts met that standard, Krueger said.

Having students back in the building will help schools in the Chagrin school district, Daugherty said, especially since the district has a relatively small IT staff that isn’t equipped to provide home support.

Prior to the pandemic, Daugherty’s department fielded around five to 10 technical problems a day, mostly from students who broke or forgot their Chromebooks. During remote learning, that jumped to around 30 to 50 per day.

But home connectivity remains a concern because some practices from the pandemic will continue, Daugherty said.

He expects that his district will continue sending devices home with students over the summer break to lessen the summer academic slide. He also expects teachers to continue to record their lessons so students can access them later as needed.

Aside from equity concerns, district technology leaders listed improving cybersecurity and student data privacy as their top technology priorities.

According to the survey, more than three-quarters of districts (77 percent) do not have a full-time employee dedicated to network security. And only half of districts require cybersecurity training for the entire staff.

Other challenges IT leaders listed during the survey were:

  • Budget constraints and lack of resources
  • Lack of access to professional development
  • Existence of silos in the district

“There has to be a passionate advocacy on the part of technology leaders to articulate what we can do better by making sure we have equity built in,” Krueger said. “Digital isn’t going away. There’s a whole lot of things we can do a lot better, even at school.”

Photo: Alpha Wireless AW3170 panel antennas deployed in a private school district network near the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. (Credit: Business Wire via AP)

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