Education Budgets

PowerSchool Announces New Analytics Tool to Help Schools Address the Growing Student Learning Gap – PowerSchool

Teachers will benefit from personalized learning tools to help save them time and improve education outcomes for every student.

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Pandemic Academic Regression? School Budget Shortfalls?

Across the country district and school leaders and staff, teachers, families and students are suffering the sudden change to staying at home. One of the very painful realities is that this pandemic is limiting learning for students from less affluent families more, widening the already unacceptable equity gap. Families with less income are more likely not to have Internet connections, or to have weak connections. The student may have no computer or tablet for their study, or they may have a device that cannot handle the challenges of web conferencing, advanced software, or rich media. In some families many children share one device and cannot complete their work or meet at the times teachers give lessons online. Parents in those families are less likely to be able to guide the students with the technology or the academics. Meanwhile, IB, AP, Honors, and self-motivated students with Internet and devices may actually speed ahead of the rate of learning they would have achieved in the school building. We have much to do to address these challenges.

In Hawai‘i, the only district that covers the whole state, it is difficult to measure given the district’s effort to leave decisions and implementation to the schools and complex areas. Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i surveyed parents and received a wide variety of responses on accessible Internet and devices, and in the ways in which technology is being used to support students and families during this shelter-in-home time. Honolulu Civil Beat reported on the difficulty getting data on the district’s pandemic response comparing it to efforts in Miami, Los Angeles and other cities.

As Miami’s school buildings closed, the district rushed to provide 90,000 more devices and around 11,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. 91% of Miami Dade students have logged in for virtual lessons.

“We are bracing ourselves for an unprecedented, historic academic regression experienced by our most fragile population of students.” — Alberto Carvahlo, Superintendent, Miami Dade Schools

The Los Angeles, CA Unified School District is spending $95 million to deliver hot spots and laptops to students to address the digital divide. The impact of technology and training needs on the budget is staggering. Overall effect on the LAUSD budget is pictured below. Click here to get to the EdSource article providing that chart and information on other districts facing these challenges.

Tech Companies Angle for Big Bucks in Education

 | August 12, 2013 KQED


Enthusiasm to change education from an old-school, paper-based model that most adults are familiar with from their time in school, to a dynamic, personalized experience for kids is fueling innovative ideas and attracting a lot of money.

Both in policy and in practice, education leaders are calling for student access to useful tools and skills. At the same time, entrepreneurs and investors see a market ripe for penetration, in the same way that technology upended models for offering news, music, and retail purchasing.

“Education feels like the last frontier of the internet,” said Trace Urdan, a research analyst for Wells Fargo focusing on education markets. “Investors are excited for what they see as the inevitable transformation of education through technology and the use of the internet as a distributive tool in that process.”

The challenges to becoming a profitable and sustainable education business are formidable. Education is highly political and funding ebbs and flows in cycles that can be unpredictable. It’s a bureaucratic, slow-moving system, especially when public funding is involved. Purchasing power is dispersed across various levels of the system, from individual classrooms all the way up to the federal office. These are all challenges to any one business breaking into what has become a market dominated by three big textbook publishers with large, on-the-ground sales forces: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Investors keep pumping money into products that seem promising. “Everybody is waiting for the Facebook of education to come along.”

“Technology alone can’t solve the politics,” Urdan said. “There’s this sense among tech investors that the politics and all this other process stuff will fall away the way that it has in some other consumer markets.” Urdan thinks that’s a naïve view, but he admits that the education market has changed since the dot-com boom and bust and that perhaps the time is ripe for innovative technology to lasting in-roads with schools.

What’s different now? Teachers are more comfortable with tech use than they were in the 1990s. Schools have also begun to catch up with the hardware, and are regularly making big-district wide purchases, as with Los Angeles Unified’ s announcement that it’s giving away 31,000 iPads to students at 47 district schools.

Integration of Common Core and the standardization of content goals also make it more possible for individual products to fit the majority of state markets. And perhaps most importantly, students are accustomed to using tech in all aspects of their lives and expect it from school.

David Hoverman, who’s focused on the education market at the Parthenon Group, also suggests that the tough economy over the last few years might have actually helped smaller companies get a foothold in classrooms. During the recession, many schools all but eliminated buying new materials from big publishers, he said. Instead, teachers went out looking for tools to serve their needs. They found start-up ed-tech products that have become staples in their classroom. And now, hooking teachers before trying to sell to schools or districts has become a common business strategy.


Many ed-tech start-ups are learning from successful commercial business strategies that preceded them. A common one is to seed the product for free with users and when a certain level of absorption has been achieved, try to sell an enhanced version to management. Another, similar model that many ed-tech companies like ClassDojo, Meograph and Tynker have embraced is the freemium model, where the basic product is free, but more advanced features come with a fee. A third is to simultaneously sell a product to schools while offering an advanced product to parents that unlocks supplemental material.

“The sense that I have in speaking to investors is that at some level the potential that they see is so large — in that you have this paper-based, old-fashioned way of doing things that could really benefit from reinvention — and they think that’s such a big opportunity that they are willing to give some of these companies a little bit of slack as they work out how they are going to attack the market,” Urdan said.

No one knows which product or model will ultimately strike it big. And in the meantime, investors keep pumping money into products that seem promising. “Everybody is waiting for the Facebook of education to come along,” Urdan said.

Investors are looking for real solutions to complicated problems — and there are many in education –  because that’s where big money can be made. Venture capitalists seeding the money for ed-tech companies often expect a return on investment that’s 10 to 20 times what they invested, in order to compensate for the risk. At the same time, most expect that some ventures won’t pan out.

“The problem that we often have in the education field is that investors see the problem, they see the solution and they figure it’s all going to happen really quickly and then they get frustrated when it doesn’t,” Urdan said. If that happens, he predicts the big publishers will swoop in and buy up innovative companies, further consolidating their hold on the market.

“The textbook publishers are absolutely paying very close attention to every little start-up that’s funded and every application that’s out there that’s going into the classroom, whether it’s directly related to content or is as far afield as bus scheduling,” Urdan said. “This is not that large a market and they are paying very close attention because obviously their future is at stake.”

Traditionally the two best ways to make the kind of money that investors want to see is to either take a company public or be bought by a bigger company. Many entrepreneurs say they’re in the business because they want to be part of changing education for the better, but despite their best intentions to remain independent companies, becoming part of a company with a larger platform and longer reach might prove irresistible.

KQED Article on Educator-driven Start Ups Address Education Needs and Technology Innovations

 The Rise of Educator-Entrepreneurs: Bringing Classroom Experience to Ed-Tech  By Katrina Schwartz


Most teachers are happy doing their job — helping kids understand and make sense of the world around them. But there’s a growing number of educators who are wading into entrepreneurship, frustrated at the lack of tools they need, and wanting to extend their sphere of influence. As technology becomes more widely used and accepted in the classroom, teachers are taking their ideas about how to improve learning environments, sharing them online, and creating web-based tools to benefit teachers and students.

At the same time, the fact that the multi-billion dollar ed-tech space is exploding has not gone unnoticed by investors. Programs like Imagine K12 run crash courses in ed-tech entrepreneurship, connecting fledgling companies to Silicon Valley venture capital firms (and staking out a six percent equity).

But, as most educators know, while tech entrepreneurs can sometimes hit gold, not every newly minted site or software is useful to teachers. That’s what sets educator entrepreneurs apart — they have relevant classroom experience that can’t be gained any other way than by doing the hard work of teaching.


Jack West has taught for 16 years and has been at Sequoia High School in Redwood City for most of that time. He’s a physics teacher and is naturally inclined to innovate, even if his students aren’t as enthusiastic about his non-traditional teaching style. West returned to traditional teaching for eight years until he figured out how to use his innovative techniques not only to spice things up, but to actually help his students do better. That’s what led to the launch this year ofBraincandy, a tool to help students understand the underlying concepts behind their misperceptions.

West and his co-founders wrote trick-questions on physics concepts that many kids get wrong. The answer choices are all the common misperceptions. The goal is for students to be completely sure that they’re choosing the right answer, the obvious answer, only to find out that most got it wrong. “These aren’t test questions. They are instructional questions,” explained West. “So what we’re trying to do is create a discrepancy event, a shocking event to open the door for a teachable  moment.” West is going for an even distribution of wrong answers that shock students and allows him to create discussion and activity around understanding the misconceived concept.

West found that his students performed better on the Force Concepts Inventory, a test for honors physics students and first year college students on basic physics concepts when he used this technique. So far, nine other Bay Area teachers are trying Braincandy techniques on physical science, chemistry and biology students, and West is receiving help from Silicon Valley techies and business entrepreneurs to build out his site. The time is ripe for teachers to use their natural inclination to innovate to help the kids that they are failing, he said.

“If I do more of the same and just do it better — I’ve seen that trajectory, and I feel like I’ve gone as far as I can with that and I need to try something else,” West said. “Based on my experience and the luck of the draw, technology is my channel.”

Adam Bellow, another ed-tech entrepreneur, recently developed a Pinterest-like tool for teachers called eduClipper. Bellow is based in New York and has spent much of his career helping teachers use technology in the classroom more effectively.

“The biggest issue that we have as teachers is finding and sharing good stuff,” Bellow said. “You have teachers that are open to doing these things, that want to, but who don’t necessarily know where to go or don’t feel they have a time to find them.” He wants eduClipper to fill that void and for students and teachers to interact on the site, sharing the buckets of useful links, videos and infographics with one another. Students could even use the site as way to develop a digital portfolio, he said.

Bellow built the tool to serve a need he found distinctly lacking. “The reason I’m building this tool is that I’ve seen so many companies build websites that they think are cool, or that they think address a need, without consulting teachers. Teachers are usually the last people to be consulted on many of these education technology companies,” Bellow said.

The site has already drawn 25,000 users and he actually isn’t accepting more until he rolls out the next version of the site. Beyond just helping teachers, Bellow is most excited about features directed at students and meant to encourage them to create. He wants eduClipper “to have students inspire other students to make real things,” the way that the Maker Faire events have done. With a body of work to carry with them, students would be able to show achievement through more than just testing.


Digital Harbor Foundation

James Sanders, who worked as a teacher for many years, is another educator wading into entrepreneurship. For his day job, Sanders works as the Innovation Manger for KIPP, Bay Area Schools. But he’s also partnered withEsther Wojcicki, a journalism teacher at Palo Alto High, and Duncan Winter, to createClassBadges, scheduled to launch Monday. It’s a digital platform for teachers and students to collect badges for mastery of certain topics. The badges represent learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. For example, a student could get a badge for going to a museum and completing an exercise related to the visit. Sanders sees ClassBadges as a way for students to look back at a digital record of what they learned – plus it’s fun and uses elements of gamification that students are already accustomed to.

Sanders agreed with both Bellows and West that education is at a crossroads. “Everyone agrees this is finally a time where people are opening up to the idea of change in the classroom and the power of technology,” said Sanders. “People recognize that this is a powerful tool for learning.”

Educators are taking advantage of the moment, and the flurry of investor interest in ed-tech, to leverage some of their innovations into products. Here are some other educator-initiated companies and non-profits:

  • ClassDojo: This free online tool, co-founded by teacher Sam Chaudhary, helps teachers manage behavior in the classroom by awarding points to students for positive behavior. Students get immediate feedback on their behavior, tied to a points system, which helps reinforce good behavior over time. 
  • Digital Harbor Foundation: This non-profit, cofounded by educator Shelly Blake-Plock, wasstarted by educators in Baltimore to connect teachers, students and technologists to one another through the web. They want to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in students before they even graduate. For example, they have a reverse mentoring club where students teach older members of the community about technology. Or a STEM club, where students interested in science, technology, engineering and math are given real world challenges posed by industry leaders. 
  • Socrative: This web tool was built by a team of educators, engineers and entrepreneurs with the goal of increasing engagement and decreasing grading time. Through smart phones, laptops or tablets students enter digital classrooms where the teacher can control the flow of activities and games – getting an instant understanding of whether the students are grasping certain concepts. The tool can then analyze individual and class progress 
  • NoRedInk: Jeff Scheur started this company after three years teaching in Chicago schools. As an English teacher he spent hours grading papers only to have students ignore the feedback they received. NoRedInk uses material that is engaging to students, like their own conversations or their favorite TV shows to try to engage them in the question. As students answer questions the material adapts to how they are doing, drilling down on the underlying concepts as they progress through the activities. Teachers can track student progress and give assignments and quizzes tailored to each student’s interests. The hope is that NoRedInk makes grammar fun, so students will practice more than what is assigned to them.