Education Reform

Laura Chapman: The Growth of the EdTech Biz

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Laura Chapman is a retired arts educator and a tireless researcher. After she read a post about the disappointing history of education technology and its constant self-promotion, she wrote a post about the current frenzy to buy and build new forms of education technology for the classroom. While most parents and teachers will welcome the return to full-time, face-to-face instruction, many entrepreneurs are betting that the sky is the limit for new technologies. The market is booming!

She writes:

A February 14, 2021 report from EdSurge Biz is all about a deluge of venture capital pouring into the edtech industry and with high hopes of getting a big return on their dollars. In the span of only two days three transactions for US edtech companies totaled over $1 billion. An example of big deals and high hopes is Renaissance’s $650 million acquisition of Nearpod.

Renaissance enables one-click use of ClassLink and Clever. More than 13,000 schools use the Renaissance performance tracking dashboards assembled as “myIGDIs“ (Individual Growth & Development Indicators) for early childhood. The indicators are displayed in colorful dashboards. These displays show at least one “kindergarten readiness score” for early literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional development.

Renaissance also markets “Star” assessments with a claim that these are “highly predictive of performance on state and other high-stakes tests.” There are Star tests for Early Literacy K-3; Literacy growth, K–12; Math for grades 1 to 12; Star elementary school “Curriculum-based tests” in reading and math; Bilingual tests for reading, math, and early literacy for emerging bilingual students… and more (custom tests). https://www.renaissance.com/products/star-assessments.

Renaissance’s acquisition of the Nearpod platform provides a way for teachers to upload and distribute digital lessons in the form of interactive slide decks. The platform also tracks student progress and interactions with the materials.

Nearpod has since expanded this “toolbox” with features that let teachers create quizzes, offer virtual reality content for digital field trips, and embed mini-games into lessons. There is also a library of over 15,000 pre-made lessons from third-party providers including Amplify, Desmos, iCivics and Teaching Tolerance. In 2020, an estimated 19.5 million lessons were taught on Nearpod, marking a six-fold increase from the previous year, according to its CEO Pep Carrera.

“The pandemic really accelerated the need for teachers to find ways to continue doing things that were once easily done in classrooms,” he said in an interview. Today, the platform is used by 75 percent of all U.S. public school districts. Nearpod offers some of its content and tools for free and sells licenses to individual teachers, schools and districts. see  https://www.edsurge.com/news/2021-01-13-a-record-year-amid-a-pandemic-us-edtech-raises-2-2-billion-in-2020

Other deals

HOBSONS SPLIT AND SOLD: Hobsons, a provider of college planning, readiness and enrollment tools since 1974, will be broken up and sold. PowerSchool will be acquiring its college and career-planning tools, Naviance and Intersect; EAB will purchase the student engagement service, Starfish. These two are expected to net Hobson’s owner $410 million.

CODECADEMY COMEBACK: Long before coding boot camps were a thing, there were startups like Codecademy building web-based tools to teach programming. Now, a decade after it launched, the New York-based company continues to grow, selling to colleges and companies and—perhaps most importantly—achieving profitability. That long, steady growth has been rewarded with a $40 million investment led by Owl Ventures”

Kahoot, the Norweigian provider of a game-based learning platform, has acquired Whiteboard.fi, a Finnish developer of digital whiteboard tools for teachers and students, in a deal worth up to $12 million.

Photomath, a San Francisco-based developer of a math problem-solving app, has raised $23 million in a Series B round led by Menlo Ventures, and joined by GSV Ventures, Learn Capital, Cherubic Ventures and Goodwater Capital.

Praxis Labs, a New York-based provider of virtual-reality educational programs for workplaces, has raised $3.2 million in a seed round led by SoftBank’s OB Opportunity Fund, and joined by Norwest Venture Partners, Emerson Collective, Ulu Ventures, Precursor Ventures and Firework VC.”

These ventures dismiss the need for face-to-face deliberations about education and from early childhood to college readiness. Many focus on the required subjects for tests and capitalize on the high stakes attached to test scores. They have contributed to the truncated curriculum in schools. Most substitute “artificial intelligence” and marketing for the work of professionals in education.

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