A San Francisco startup that tried to reinvent school is handing off operations of its schools and turning into a software company.
Founded by ex-Googler Max Ventilla, AltSchool has been burning cash in a failed attempt to create a profitable private school network and fighting to sell an expensive edtech product in a crowded field.
But as Ventilla admits when he lets his guard down, reaching profitability will be quite a stretch. The story of how AltSchool arrived at this point—burning cash in a failed attempt to create a profitable private-school network and fighting to sell an expensive edtech product in a crowded field—shows that the best intentions, an impressive career in tech and an excess of Silicon Valley money and enthusiasm don’t easily translate into success in a tradition-bound marketplace where budgets are tight.
efore starting AltSchool, Ventilla says, he read two dozen books on education and emerged a fan of Sir Ken Robinson, a British TED Talk speaker known for lamenting the dearth of creativity in early education, and Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and the winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant who has written about the need for children to cultivate “grit.” The quality of primary and secondary education in America, stuck in an industrial-age model, has been in steady decline for the last century, says Ventilla, citing the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, a worldwide test of reading, math and science ability in which U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 38th out of 71 countries.
Though Ventilla’s business plan was no more than a vague outline, he was a Silicon Valley insider, and investors bought in. “He was talking about a shift from a lecture-based model of education to a learner-centric model,” says First Round Capital partner Josh Kopelman, who sits on AltSchool’s board. “That made total sense to us.”
via Audrey Watters