So you’re a parent, thinking about sending your 7-year-old to this rogue startup of a school you heard about from your friend’s neighbor’s sister. It’s prospective parent information day, and you make the trek to San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. You walk up to the second floor of the school, file into a glass-walled conference room overlooking a classroom, and take a seat alongside dozens of other parents who, like you, feel that public schools—with their endless bubble-filled tests, 38-kid classrooms, and antiquated approach to learning—just aren’t cutting it.
At the same time, you’re thinking: this school is kind of weird.
On one side of the glass is a cheery little scene, with two teachers leading two different middle school lessons on opposite ends of the room. But on the other side is something altogether unusual: an airy and open office with vaulted ceilings, sunlight streaming onto low-slung couches, and rows of hoodie-wearing employees typing away on their computers while munching on free snacks from the kitchen. And while you can’t quite be sure, you think that might be a robot on wheels roaming about.
Then there’s the guy who’s standing at the front of the conference room, the school’s founder. Dressed in the San Francisco standard issue t-shirt and jeans, he’s unlike any school administrator you’ve ever met. But the more he talks about how this school uses technology to enhance and individualize education, the more you start to like what he has to say.
And so, if you are truly fed up with the school status quo and have $20,875 to spare (it’s pricey, sure, but cheaper than the other private schools you’ve seen), you might decide to take a chance and sign your 7-year-old up for this little experiment in education called AltSchool . Except it’s not really so little anymore. And it’s about to get a lot bigger.
Founded in 2013 by former Google head of personalization Max Ventilla, AltSchool has poached high level executives from Google and Uber. It’s got users—in this case, parents—applying by the thousands. It’s actually making money. And as of today, Mark Zuckerberg just became one of its largest investors.
The young Facebook founder is emerging as one of the country’s most generous philanthropists and a leading activist for school reform, and AltSchool appears to fit into his vision. Through his education-focused non-profit, Zuckerberg has contributed a large portion of a new $100 million round of venture funding to AltSchool. The round, which AltSchool announced today, also includes existing investors such as Andreessen Horowitz and Peter Thiel’s Founder’s Fund, as well as eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of the late Steve Jobs. The investment brings AltSchool’s total funding to $133 million. But more importantly, it means AltSchool has been anointed by the top minds in Silicon Valley as the best hope for the future of education.
But what are they betting on? AltSchool is a decidedly Bay Area experiment with an educational philosophy known as student-centered learning. The approach, which many schools have adopted, holds that kids should pursue their own interests, at their own pace. To that, however, AltSchool mixes in loads of technology to manage the chaos, and tops it all off with a staff of forward-thinking teachers set free to custom-teach to each student. The result, they fervently say, is a superior educational experience.
Its schools, which serve students from pre-K to 8th grade, have no administrators, no gymnasiums, no cafeterias, no hallways. There are no report cards and no bells signaling it’s time for the next class.
Instead, AltSchools are single-room schoolhouses that sit in storefronts on city streets. Today, there are four. By next year, it’ll be eight, including an outpost in Brooklyn, the first outside the Bay Area bubble. Students get their own iPad or Chromebook, depending on their age, and their own weekly “playlists,” queues of individual and group activities tailored to the specific strengths and weaknesses of each kid. Meanwhile, AltSchool’s technology tracks each student’s progress—and setbacks—every step of the way.
Source: Wired | Issie Lapowsky