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In Their Own Words: What Students Want From Ed-Tech Products

EdWeek Market Brief talked with two tech-savvy students about where digital products meet their needs, and fall short.

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Mississippi District Seeking Assessment Platform; N.Y. District Looks For Pre-K Provider

K-2 assessment platform, pre-K program provider, and online curriculum. A Mississippi school district is looking to buy a system to develop formative and summative tests for K-2 while a district in downstate New York seeks pre-K services. And a district in Utah looks for K-8 online curriculum.

Recent Solicitations

Active/upcoming solicitations for goods/services

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Inside One Education Company’s Efforts to Organize a Product Around Learning Recovery

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is one of many companies across the K-12 market that has sought to create products to help districts address academic remediation for students who have fallen behind during COVID.

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K-12 Dealmaking: GoGuardian Acquires Formative Assessment Platform; Tutoring Startup Becomes Europe’s Latest Unicorn

GoGuardian, which provides a suite of classroom management and student safety solutions, has acquired Edulastic, the companies announced this week.

Edulastic describes itself as a next-generation formative online assessment platform that helps teachers quickly identify learning gaps, give students differentiated assignments to meet individual learning needs, and monitors students’ progress on the way to standards mastery.

The acquisition will advance Los Angeles-based GoGuardian’s mission to create the “ultimate learning platform,” the announcement says.

“Gauging student understanding is a vital element of effective teaching and learning. The Edulastic team has created sophisticated, data-driven solutions that provide teachers with real-time, actionable insights that support great teaching and improved outcomes,” GoGuardian co-founder and CEO Advait Shinde said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to welcome the talented Edulastic team into the GoGuardian family.”

The companies estimate that the acquisition will allow their combined platform to reach one out of three K-12 students nationwide. GoGuardian already serves over 20 million students in more than 14 million schools, and Edulastic is used by more than 9 million students at more than 19,000 schools, according to the announcement.

“Since our founding, Edulastic has been on a mission to deliver insights that help teachers teach and help students learn,” Edulastic co-founder and CEO Madhu Narasa said in a statement. “GoGuardian is a natural fit that will accelerate our mission and expand our ability to serve educators, now and long into the future.”

The acquisition was led by GoGuardian and Sumeru Equity Partners, a technology-focused growth capital firm that first invested in GoGuardian in 2018. Edulastic is backed by early-stage venture capital firm Primera Capital.

Austrian tutoring startup announces investment, ‘unicorn’ status. After receiving a $244.4 million Series C investment led by DST Global, GoStudent announced it is Europe’s latest ed-tech unicorn and the highest-valued ed-tech company in Europe, according to an announcement.

The company is now valued at $1.7 billion, or €1.4 billion.

GoStudent, which is based in Vienna and provides one-to-one video-based online tutoring, also saw investments this round from SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Tencent, Dragoneer, Coatue, Left Lane Capital, and DN Capital.

The investment will be used to drive global expansion, according to the announcement. GoStudent is currently used in 15 countries, has expanded its team to more than 500 employees, and has opened 12 new offices, adding new locations in Athens, Istanbul, and Amsterdam.

The company aims to be present in over 20 countries by the end of 2021, planning to launch in Canada and Mexico this summer, and also intends to invest in branding, product development, and company acquisitions. GoStudent will also double its team to over 1,000 employees this year, the company said.

GoStudent grows by a rate of approximately 30 percent month-over-month, according to the announcement.

“At the heart of GoStudent is our mission to build the No. 1 Global School,” GoStudent co-founder and CEO Felix Ohswald said in a statement. “The new investment and the resulting opportunities for continued international growth bring us one step closer to fulfilling our mission.”

Apax Digital Fund invests in Revolution Prep. Private equity firm Apax Digital Fund will invest in online tutoring platform Revolution Prep, Apax announced.

The announcement doesn’t give a specific figure, but refers to the infusion as a “growth investment” that will allow Revolution Prep to expand its offering and increase access to world-class online tutoring.

The investment will enable Revolution Prep to make professional tutors available to more students in the U.S. and beyond, the announcement says. Over 1 million families have used the service.

“The pandemic has accelerated the shift from traditional to online learning and we’re continuing to see strong demand even as society is re-opening,” Revolution Prep CEO Matt Kirchner said in a statement. Apax Digital’s “investment will support an acceleration of our key growth priorities, including scaling up the more affordable small group tutoring format and the strategic expansion into the middle school tutoring segment, supporting families earlier in their academic journeys.”

Apax Digital Fund was attracted by Revolution Prep’s “cutting-edge” technology platform, longstanding partnerships with schools, and breadth and expertise of its tutors, Marcelo Gigliani, managing partner of Apax Digital said in a statement.

Lincoln International was the exclusive financial adviser to Revolution Prep in connection with the transaction.

ETS Strategic Capital and GSV Ventures invest in Degreed. Princeton, N.J.-based ETS Strategic Capital, the venture capital arm of research and assessment organization ETS, is joining GSV Ventures to invest in Degreed, a workforce upskilling company used by about one in three Fortune 50 companies, according to an announcement.

The investment is aimed to continue to advance and grow ETS’s educational business and mission through high-growth dealmaking, the announcement says.

San Francisco-based Degreed received a $153 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures and Riverwood Capital in April.

“Our investment in Degreed will help us to continue to leverage high-growth companies who are aligned to the business and mission of ETS and grow globally as an organization,” Ralph Taylor-Smith, managing director of ETS Strategic Capital, said in a statement. “The corporate learning, workforce development and reskilling/upskilling sector is a key new business growth area for ETS.”

The announcement cites a study by Statistia showing that $82.5 billion was invested in workplace training in the U.S. in 2020.

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How One Company Adapted Its PD for COVID and Beyond: A Case Study

Achieve3000’s efforts during the pandemic offer a window into how education businesses have sought to overhaul support for teachers to suit virtual environments.

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ETS Acquires English Language Learning Test Assets for Japan

ETS announced this week that it acquired the testing assets of its longtime partner in providing English language learning tests in Japan, the Council on International Educational Exchange.

With the purchase, the nonprofit based in Princeton, N.J., will establish a new subsidiary, ETS Japan, to take over the operations and support services provided in the country.

The move supports the organization’s interest in growing internationally by establishing its own footprint in Japan, said Ralph Taylor-Smith, Managing Director of ETS Strategic Capital, the investment arm of the research and assessment entity. For the last 40 years, ETS tests and other products have been administered in Japan through CIEE.

“We already have business in the country,” Taylor-Smith said in an interview. “But this allows us now to start to expand our global reach, and really gives us a footprint to start to build other areas… Having people on the ground really gives us that local presence and local reach.”

Founded in 1947, ETS is one of the best-known providers of testing in the United States and abroad. Their tests include statewide summative exams, graduate-school entry tests, and tests of English-language proficiency.

With the acquisition, the company will work to provide a complete experience for students, according to an ETS press release, including helping students prepare for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exams and GRE graduate school entry exam.

Taylor-Smith declined to reveal the total cost of the TOEFL acquisition deal.

This is the latest in a string of purchases and investments for ETS Strategic Capital, which was announced in September 2020 with a portfolio of five companies. The venture capitalist arm of ETS now has a portfolio with closer to 10 companies, Taylor-Smith said.

EdWeek Market Brief previously reported that the investment arm’s M&A deals were expected to range from $20 million to $200 million in size, and its equity investments could run from $1 million to $20 million.

The ETS program’s growth comes as venture capital investment in education surged. Investors put more than $16 billion into ed tech in 2020, according to a report by HolonIQ. That’s roughly double the amount put forward in 2018.

Photo:  David Davies/PA Wire via AP

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The Challenge for Companies: Supporting Teachers in a Chaotic Era

Businesses in the education market face new and unfamiliar obstacles in delivering product support and professional development that spans remote, hybrid, and in-person learning environments.

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Learning Loss During COVID Will Fuel Economic Losses, Business Leaders Predict

The impact of learning loss during the pandemic won’t just be felt in the classroom. It could also saddle the future economy.

That was the core argument put forward recently by a group of eight business leaders from North Carolina, who made a public plea for state policymakers to address students’ academic slippage during COVID.

Among their recommendations, laid out at a recent online event, were for state policymakers to set up a recurring funding stream to train all of the state’s educators, and to move from a “student tutoring model” for literacy education to a model that supports educators based on the “science of reading.”

Reading proficiency among North Carolina 3rd graders slightly worsened during the pandemic.

According to a report last month by the (Raleigh) News & Observer, accounting for 67.7 percent of 3rd-grade students who had taken midyear assessments, 75.4 percent of 3rd graders were not reading at a proficient level, compared to 73.6 percent last school year.

“Let’s be clear: This is not just a North Carolina problem,” said Kelly King, chairman and CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Truist Financial Corp., a consumer and commercial bank holding company. “This is a national problem.”

The impact of learning loss does not appear to be hitting all U.S. school communities equally. A report released by McKinsey & Company in December found that there was a 10 percent drop in average K-5 reading levels among majority-white schools during COVID, but a 23 percent drop in average K-5 reading levels among minority-majority schools.

Another participant in the North Carolina event, Honeywell Chairman and CEO Darius Adamczyk, noted that COVID has likely accelerated the need for higher educational attainment, a demand that is unlikely to abate. Honeywell, headquartered in North Carolina, is a conglomerate with a heavy focus in aerospace and building technologies, among other industries.

Investing in early reading proficiency is integral to weathering a changing economy, and for students to gain education and skills to meet the needs of businesses, Adamczyk said.

“The recommendations we’re making today will address inequities in our workforce and help us develop a strong, diverse, and resilient talent pipeline well into the future,” he said.

In addition to recommending recurring state investments in teacher training in reading, the leaders called for North Carolina policymakers to maintain and even expand funding for pre-K access in the state and to eventually accomplish the goal of enrolling 75 percent of the state’s pre-K-eligible children, and to ensure that every county hits that benchmark.

The state currently funds pre-K programs at about $154 million per year.

Fred Whitfield, president and vice chairman of Hornets Sports & Entertainment, noted that about 9,100 fewer children enrolled in North Carolina pre-K for the 2020-2021 school year compared with the previous school year, eliminating all of the enrollment gains made in the state over the last four years.

Before COVID, enrollment in the state’s pre-K had topped 31,000 children — about 50 percent of the children eligible for the program statewide, he said. Now, pre-K programs in the state are serving only 36 percent of eligible children.

A Big Focus on Pre-K

“The drop in enrollment should not be viewed as a decrease in demand or need for North Carolina pre-K,” Whitfield said. “To the contrary, although we have much to overcome, this proven high-quality program, targeted at some of our most at-risk children, is needed now, more than ever.”

In addition to calling for more support for pre-K, the business leaders are asking state officials to inflation-adjust North Carolina’s pre-K funding for the first time in nine years, to require an annual such inflation adjustment, and to modify county-state cost sharing percentages to help economically disadvantaged counties cover program costs, Whitfield said.

During their presentation, the business leaders cited a 2016 CEO action plan to support improved U.S. literacy rates put forward by Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs at leading U.S. companies.

North Carolina business leaders were inspired by the action plan to initiate several pro-education initiatives, including creation of a comprehensive aligned education system for grades pre-K-3, as well as launching a data methodology to ensure that children stay on track to achieve reading proficiency, said Dale Jenkins, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based medical malpractice insurance provider Curi.

A “robust data system” is scheduled to roll out later this year, Jenkins said.

In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly formed the Birth through Third Grade, or B-3, Interagency Council, which is a joint council between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The goal of the effort was to create a vision for a birth through 3rd-grade system of early education, and a system of accountability tied to it, including standards and assessment, data-driven improvement and outcomes, and teacher and administrator preparation and effectiveness.

“We’ve made progress on these goals through the B-3 Interagency Council that was created in 2017 to address these issues among others,” Jenkins said. “We applaud the General Assembly and the governor for moving this forward together.”

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Supplemental Curriculum Providers Say Demand Is Booming. What’s Driving It?

The pandemic has fueled demand for academic lessons outside of core curriculum, as districts seek flexibility and digital materials that engage students.

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COVID 19 Slows the Tide of K-12 RFPs, But Rebound Expected in 2021 and 2022

The number of published solicitations in K-12 declined sharply in 2020 — dropping to the lowest in almost a decade — but the education sector is poised to return to pre-pandemic levels for RFPs faster than many other government markets that buy products and services, according to GovWin from Deltek. 

Last year’s dip in solicitations was due primarily to a tectonic shift in school district spending and purchasing priorities as a result of COVID-19 and the mass move to remote learning.

Districts typically rely on RFPs and bids as part of the procurement process, but in many cases last year did not want to wait through the long process involved with those traditional purchasing vehicles. School systems also relied on sole-source (non-competitive) procurements or turned to cooperatives last year to purchase goods and services quickly, according to GovWin from Deltek, which tracks published solicitations. 

The company estimates that K-12 RFPs and bids fell off by 18.5 percent during 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to its recent “State and Local Procurement Snapshot – Q4 2020” report

Source: GovWin's market intelligence database, including state, local, and educational contracting activity.
Source: GovWin’s market intelligence database, including state, local, and educational contracting activity.

The report, which analyzed RFPs and bids from all public school districts with an enrollment of more than 500 students, says that K-12 solicitation volume is expected to grow by 13 percent this year and then almost another 5 percent in 2022 as spending and purchasing conditions normalize further. 

“Education overall is one of the markets that’s going to rebound most effectively through the next two years,” said Morgan Parkin, a research analyst for GovWin at Deltek. 

That rebound, said Parkin, has already started, fueled in part by several rounds of federal emergency dollars. 

She is forecasting that soft demand in a broad swath of K-12 spending categories should begin to reverse, and vendors could “start to notice those changes as early as now.” At the same time, solicitations for some “high priority purchases” have remained strong in recent months, according to the report. 

Two big areas Parkin said she’s noticing an uptick  for published solicitations is STEM curriculum and career-technical education programs. 

She also expects to see an increase in school districts issuing bids for assessment programs. Moving forward, districts could be issuing solicitations for a broader mix of assessment tools “coming from all types of vendors, large and small,” to better understand achievement gaps caused by the pandemic,” according to the report. 

“A major contract might get split up into smaller ones so more vendors can get in on it,” Parkin said, noting that districts might be less willing to sign with a big assessment provider for multiple years. “There’s going to be more work in assessments, but it will look a little different going in 2021 and 2022.”  

Demand should also stay steady for digital textbooks, small-scale remote learning tools, and computer equipment — all tools needed in case of another move back to distance learning. 

Rising Interest in PD, and Consulting

The report notes that vendors should “continue to watch for opportunities across all aspects of education, as this market involves a vast amount of services, supplies, systems, software, construction and maintenance. “ Districts not only have more money at their disposal now than at some points in 2020, as a result of a new federal stimulus, but more time and increased flexibility in how they use those funds. 

“Spending has returned already at the start of 2021,” Parkin said. 

Bids and RFPs issued by independent school districts rose from about 45,000 in 2014 up to 53,864 in 2019, for a compounded annual growth rate of 3.6 percent.

In 2020, the total was 43,903, which was the lowest since 2012, according to data from GovWin from Deltek. 

GovWin from Deltek provides business customers with market intelligence and leads on federal, state, local, and education government contracting. A recent analysis by the organization of contracting in the K-12 and higher education markets can be found here. (EdWeek Market Brief partners with GovWin from Deltek’s searches as a source for Purchasing Alerts, our twice-weekly breakdowns of education-focused RFPs from around the country.)

Through 2020, schools showed a strong interest in procuring supplies and safety products. But as the year progressed, so did district needs, as more schools issued bids for COVID testing services and there was a stronger focus on consulting and professional development, according to GovWin from Deltek.

Parkin said she expects the trend from 2020 of districts using cooperative purchasing to continue, but that school systems will likely rely on sole-source procurements with less frequency since they have more money and are no longer facing do-or-die timelines for purchases. 

Also, Parkin anticipates that a trend in districts making more contract opportunities available to minority and women-owned businesses will continue. 

And she has a message for vendors: Virtual sales pitches and demonstrations are still in demand, based on RFPs in 2021 that Parkin has analyzed, even as the pandemic subsides.

“Schools will be more willing to entertain the option of a virtual presentation,” she said. “I’ve seen more bids and RFPs that list it as an option, so that won’t be gone completely even as the world returns to normal in terms of spending.” 

Image by Getty


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