EdTech Thoughts 3/13 - 3/19
The most misused statistics in education
No announcements this week, hope to have some fun stuff for y’all by next weekend. On to the news.
Funding / M&A
Medwing raises $47M: Berlin-based Medwing helps match healthcare workers (mostly nurses and elderly caregivers) with medical employers (mostly hospitals and clinics). Operating exclusively in Germany and the UK, the company already counts 5,500 employers and over 500,000 healthcare workers on its platform.
Bonusly raises $19M: Boulder-based Bonusly lets employees award each other gift card bonuses to improve employee engagement and satisfaction. To ensure that the bonuses are accessible even to those with particularly parsimonious colleagues, the company will use this round’s funding to build an overzealous Clippy…sorry…AI to “encourag[e] peer-to-peer recognition to promote stronger team connections.”
Glider AI raises $10M: Cupertino-based Glider AI helps the increasing number of companies dropping the college degree from their hiring requirements hire for skill instead.
Almentor raises $10M: Dubai-based Almentor offers video-based courses for students in the MENA region. This round’s funding will be used to invest in B2C go-to-market in Saudi Arabia.
HeadRace raises $6M: Austin-based HeadRace connects a network of recruiters on a technology platform that offers both placement opportunities from employers and infrastructure to support an independent recruiting business. Additionally, the platform tracks the specific results of each recruiter who participates, bringing a quantitative approach to what has historically been a very human industry.
Upduo raises $4M: San Francisco-based Upduo provides a platform for peer-to-peer feedback focused on the enterprise market. Peer-to-peer learning is one of my favorite sub-sectors within EdTech, though I’d like to see more information about the research base Upduo uses to design their interventions.
Paper acquires Readlee: San Francisco-based Readlee builds software to help students improve their reading skills. Toronto-based Paper is best known for their on-demand tutoring services, but is rapidly growing its product portfolio to become an “educational support system.” Unfortunately, the product expansion continues to be marred by news of the company’s struggles to deliver on implementation and usage promises made to win COVID-era contracts.
Karat acquires Triplebyte: San Francisco-based Triplebyte provides B2C assessments to software engineers; the results of which the company uses to help place engineers into its companies in its talent network. The Triplebyte team will join Seattle-based Karat, which offers a technical interviewing platform for employers. Techcrunch alleges that the acquisition is a result of Triplebyte having run out of runway. I don’t love writing about speculation but note this one because I suspect we will see a lot more rumors of this sort - some true, some not - over the course of the spring and summer.
UWorld acquires Wiley’s test prep portfolio: Dallas-based UWorld is the biggest edtech company you have never heard of. Founded by a doctor, the company built its name providing test prep products to medical students and has been quietly expanding to other professional fields and high-stakes exams over the past few years. The addition of Wiley’s test prep portfolio accelerates this expansion.
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The most misused statistics in education
The article is interesting - addressing how NAEP results are spun to help different groups achieve policy goals - but the prompt is what has kept this top of mind for me. Two of the most common statistics I see in pitch decks that tend to underwhelm:
Education has a $5T TAM: Sure, yes, this is probably true. But this number is so all-encompassing it is hard to have a conversation about it. I strongly prefer total addressable market (TAM) numbers that reflect some thoughtfulness about where the product under discussion is best suited for the next 5-10 years.
96% of Chief Academic Officers think they are doing a good job preparing students for the workforce, while only 11% of business leaders agree: This was an awesome stat when it came out in 2014. It may even still be true. But it is dated. Time for a new study!
I’d love to compile a list of other statistics like this. Happy to shout out contributors in the consolidated list or keep anonymous. Hit reply to this email to send yours.
Colleges have been a small town lifeline, what happens when they shrink?
Colleges and universities in the US serve 3 important functions: 1) preprofessional training, 2) research, and 3) local area economic development. Local area economic development is the least-understood of these functions and, generally, receives the least attention.
Unfortunately, I think we’ll see more examples like those in this article of support staff losing jobs and local retailers struggling to survive amidst the college enrollment crunch. However, I’m hopeful that we’ll also see more positive examples of colleges and college towns teaming up to diversify their local economies, like Colby College is doing with the town of Waterville, Maine.
“Billionaire patrons” is not a strategy
King’s College, a 300-student arts school in Manhattan, is struggling. For many years the college relied on the beneficence of billionaire Richard DeVos (father-in-law to former ED Secretary Betsy DeVos) to stay solvent. When DeVos passed away in 2018, King’s College turned to hedge fund billionaire Bill Hwang. Hwang was a great patron until COVID, when his hedge fund’s strategy of using extraordinary leverage to buy an extremely concentrated portfolio blew up.
But the real trouble came when Canadian billionaire Peter Chung entered the picture. Chung is not a normal billionaire, he is an education billionaire! Unfortunately, not one of the good ones. He is the type that brags about not paying court-ordered restitution for lying about his institution’s accreditation status. And who promises a 300-student institution like King’s College that he will grow their online presence to 10,000+ in 3 years. And provides a line of credit to pay for the online program that puts his company first-in-line to secure the college’s Wall Street real estate if they were to go bankrupt.
ED to start using secret shoppers to monitor colleges
I will admit to being sympathetic to the argument of “let the free market decide quality.” Until I read stories like the above, which remind me that while most people in the education industry are good and have positive intent, not all do.
So, as with the new third-party servicer guidance in higher ed, I am supportive of some regulations that aim to hold providers accountable and prevent schools/students from being taken advantage of. Secret shoppers sound like a good strategy.
The business school whose courses compete with Netflix
There are now (at least) 18 Netflixes of education.
It’s sort of weird to write about the positive things Tiktok is doing for younger users, which also include limiting time in the app for teenagers to 60 minutes per day and developing an in-house learning app, given lawmakers are debating an outright ban of the app. But it still feels relevant given at least 67% of teenagers in the US use the app, which is a higher percentage than any other social media app.
The Tyranny of Science over Mothers
As someone who is not a parent, but will be in the not-too-distant future, the last paragraph of this article captured the implicit anxiety that I feel alongside the desire to be a “good” parent:
But it is also the shadow crisis that follows each mouse nibble: Too much screen time results in poor social development, but what if my kid is the only one who enters elementary school with no digital literacy? Rear-facing is safer, but when are they too big for it? Might they suffer from not seeing our faces enough? Will a mirror make me a less safe driver? Haven’t those fire-retardant chemicals been linked to thyroid cancer? Potty training too early is supposed to be bad, but how else can I get them into the preschool I’ve handpicked and that I’m certain provides the best education for my child? Time-outs are useless, but how do I teach my child that hitting is unacceptable? Early literacy is important, but haven’t new studies shown that we start our children in curricular education too early, thereby stifling creativity?
There is, of course, some risk of confirmation bias for someone like me reading an article like this. But, at the very least, I appreciated reading a perspective that goes against the grain of much of the parenting literature I’ve been exposed to.
Question of the week
Note: votes are anonymous
This week the Financial Times profiled 3 different “Alt MBA” providers, which made me wonder:
Results of last week’s poll:
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( ~ 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with a few (hopefully interesting) gut reactions attached. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
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Paper’s evolution and troubles deserves a full “Story” but time got the best of me tonight. I hope to give the topic the nuance it deserves in a future post