EdTech News Roundup - Week of 11/15
The 2021 EdTech Turkey Trot
Thank you to everyone who has responded to the Reader Survey thus far! This is the final week for you to join the more than 10% of readers who have told me that they’d like to see more Tom Brady references, no matter how forced they are.1
Another programming note: this is likely the last regular news roundup of the year. My current plan is to do two end-of-year and one reflection post in December.
The end-of-year posts will be ~2-4 topics each (e.g. OPM, bootcamps, learning pods, etc.) covering a highlight of 2021 and a prediction for 2022. As always, I will keep them short and data-informed. The reflection post will talk about the results of the reader survey and where I’m hoping to steer the newsletter in 2022.
On to the news!
Funding / M&A / IPOs
Grammmerly raises $two hundredM: Grammarly’s eponymous web extension helps individuals write better, measuring “conciseness, consistency, and correctness.” This round brings a desktop app as well as a software development kit that allows other applications to embed Grammarly’s software.
Writer raises $21M: With striking, but likely coincidental timing, Writer “provide[s] a seamless way to help everyone write well, write fast, and be on-brand.” The “on-brand” part was an interesting twist away from Grammarly’s more neutral stance on written voice. While it feels like Grammarly has a lot of mind share, the market size for this product is basically everyone who writes emails, so I can understand why the founders and investors believe there is room to run
Kaipod raises $1.5M: see “stories” below for more!
Achieve Partners buys Ro Health: Ro Health is a staffing agency for hiring nurses and behavioral therapists in-home and at public schools. This investment leans into Achieve’s thesis of providing vertical solutions (from school through first, second, and even third jobs) to areas of the labor market with acute need
Kaipod provides built-out physical spaces for K12 students enrolled in virtual schools. Their founder, Amar Kumar, is familiar with the space, having previously led Product for Pearson’s online division, including their virtual high school Connections Academy.
Last week I wrote about the inflexiblity of infrastructure in the US public school system and the impact this might have on students. In this case, I think most people would agree that a purposefully built space is better than sticking a classroom in a former Limited Too, though the two are not mutually exclusive!
On a more macro level, I’m struggling with this issue. On the one hand, I believe that innovation is good and that the growth of learning pods over the past year has been good for both students (better outcomes) and teachers (higher wages, better hours). On the other, I can’t help but feel a pit in my stomach as I reflect on how quickly the Detroit public school system unraveled when a small percentage of their students left for charter schools.2
For now, we are lucky to have good actors like Amar pushing the ball forward in this space. I will be following the policy side closely to see what controls are proposed to harness the good that stems from new models while mitigating the risk to students.
From the Wall Street Journal, “More than a dozen” tutoring licenses will be handed out to Chinese companies who can offer K-9 tutoring “on a nonprofit basis.” These companies will be allowed to make a profit on other businesses, including tutoring for adults taking professional exams.
I’ve been scratching my head since July’s crackdown on the for-profit tutoring sector in China. My only directional guide for how to perceive this news is to look at New Oriental Education and TAL Education’s (two US-listed tutoring companies who do a substantial amount of their business in China) stock prices, which remain down 90%+ since the announcement. New Oriental’s most recent statement on the topic was also not particularly optimistic.
Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell joins Mainstay’s board: two weeks ago I wrote about a concept where universities could be equity stakeholders in the vendors they work with. I don’t expect Paul Quinn to take an equity stake in Mainstay, but do appreciate that a university leader will now formally hold the Mainstay team accountable for serving their partners, and be accountable for the results himself
Tension between donors and researchers: the modern US university serves three core functions: 1) Research, 2) Teaching & Learning, and 3) Regional employment. These functions are increasingly in conflict as public universities take on more private funding and emphasis on workforce training. In this case, it looks like a substantial donor to the school (Teaching & Learning) attempted to sway the results of one professor’s work (Research)
2U and edX complete merger: I would like to give myself the smallest of pats on the back for guessing in July that the edX brand would have a major role to play for the company going forward. I promise not to let it go to my head : )
Lambda School changes name to Bloom Institute of Technology (BIT): this one surprised me. It is entirely possible that this is a response to bad PR from the past year, but my guess is that it is more likely the result of consumer research showing that an “Institute of Technology” had broader appeal to prospective students than a “Lambda”3
Thing(s) I’m Thinking About
There is a saying I have heard, “as California goes, so goes the nation.” It is surprisingly difficult to attribute this claim, which apparently originated as “as Maine goes, so goes the nation” in the mid-1800s.
Trying to predict what California, home to ~280K college students, dropping the SAT/ACT means for the secondary and higher ed ecosystems is similarly difficult, though it feels important. What I do know is that the College Board (SAT administrator) and ACT, two multi-hundred million dollar organizations, must be on edge right now.
I welcome your thoughts on the topic!
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I work hard to stay neutral here, but it’s important to me that you all know my potential biases!
I kid, sort of, about the Tom Brady references, but I am really grateful to the 10%+ of you who responded to the survey!
I recognize that there is a lot of nuance to this issue. No matter where you stand on it, the reality is a lot of students were impacted in very real ways as a result. Thinking about this on a national level is scary
It also sounds awfully similar to the name of a traditional university, the incumbent Lambda…excuse me BIT…is attempting to unseat