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January 25, 2019

AltSchool in 2019: Progress and Lessons Learned

Max Ventilla, Founder and CEO

We began AltSchool in 2013 with the mission to make the best education the most available. But, when we started, we didn't yet have a clear definition of "best education.”  We certainly didn’t have a roadmap to let that best education reach all kids. A lot has changed since then.

Today, we’re excited to play a small part in a growing nationwide movement to transition from an industrial education model to a learner-centered one. This feels like a pivotal moment, for AltSchool and for society at large. So, as we look to 2019, I’m glad to reflect on progress we’ve made to date and to orient to the biggest challenges that remain.

We’re now supporting thousands of students, through partnerships with 25 districts and schools, in nine states. Last year, we began offering the AltSchool platform to a handful of pilot partners in independent and public schools. Early results are promising. All pilot partners signed on for a second year. Our first two district partners in California increased use of the platform by 10X. For example, we started supporting 12 teachers in the Arcadia Unified School District this time last year. Word quickly spread between teachers, and by this fall we were supporting more than 120 teachers. These signals are exciting as we discern a path to support many more schools to transition to learner-centered education.

Our four lab schools have become centers of excellence in their own right—in terms of student achievement, parent satisfaction, and teacher retention. Following a challenging year of change in 2017-18, parent satisfaction is the highest to-date: 92 percent. Students are growing 34 percent faster than the national averages in math, reading, and writing (based on the most recent Measures of Academic Progress scores). We’re extremely proud of our educators guiding these communities: Teacher retention was 86 percent from last year to this one. Now we’re focused on creating long-term plans for each school. This spring, we’re forming Parent Steering Committees who will work in partnership with AltSchool’s executive team to co-develop long-term plans for each community.

In 2017 we were fortunate to attract a number of world-class career educators and administrators to our team, to guide everything we do. Moving forward, I am pleased to announce Ben Kornell will become President of AltSchool. Ben joined our team back in 2017 as VP of Growth. He’s dedicated his life to reducing educational inequity; he started as a Teach for America middle school teacher and later went to Stanford Business School to learn how to cultivate educational change broadly. As COO of Envision, he helped lead a network of charter schools and scaled a performance assessment system to public schools across the country. Since joining AltSchool, Ben’s led our company’s transition to partnering with public and private schools nationwide. As we continue to integrate the platform into existing school systems, it is essential to have education leaders like Ben at the helm.

People often ask what I wish I’d known before starting AltSchool and I say: However difficult you think working in education is...multiply that by 10. Life at a startup is hard, but education is exponentially harder. I hope in the coming year we can find ways to bring more talent and capital into the education space. As a society, we are still massively under-allocating resources to supporting a transition for all kids from the prevailing industrial education model.

At the same time, I’m confident that change can come from within our existing education systems—I didn’t think that was possible six years ago. But, since we started AltSchool, we’ve seen evidence of a post-industrial education model exemplified in normal school settings. Organizations like Education Reimagined have developed strong frameworks to guide schools broadly through the changes required. Trailblazing districts like Lindsay Unified in California and Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin have completed their own decade-long journeys, and serve as models of what’s possible.

The greatest risk is inaction. Most districts are necessarily focused on urgencies related to compliance and workload. As a result, much-needed school transformation falls below the cut line. Incentives and funding are simply not there. Even among vanguard schools, the switch to learner-centered education is happening with slow decision-making, long timelines, and resources spread thin.

All in all, the education industry feels excitingly close to the promise of learner-centered education for all, but is moving painfully slowly to get there. Let 2019 be the year when transformational change to a post-industrial model of education becomes a push every school is able to support.  Let 2019 be the year when learners everywhere start to have the best education available.

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