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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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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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Where Venture Capitalists Are Investing as Districts Shift to In-Person Education

Investors are putting a premium on companies that have the products and expertise to span distance learning and a return to in-person lessons.

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Congress Eyes Major Expansion of Apprenticeship Programs

a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A measure moving through Congress would greatly expand apprenticeship programs for students  pursuing careers in areas including computer science, green jobs, and cybersecurity.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a bipartisan measure that calls for more than $3.5 billion in spending on apprenticeships over five years.

It tasks the U.S. Labor and Education secretaries with striking an interagency agreement to align national apprenticeship programs with secondary and adult education.

The bill would authorize an increase in the amount of federal funding provided to states to support the administration of those programs, including businesses involved in career-focused training and the apprentices themselves, said Katie Spiker, director of government affairs for the National Skills Coalition.

It’s unclear whether Congress would actually appropriate up to the allowable amount provided in the bill.

Congress appropriated $185 million to registered apprenticeship programs in annual spending legislation passed in 2020.

Many state and district officials see support for computer science, coding, and other STEM-related studies as an important strategy for long-term job creation. And education companies have increased their focus on computer science training for students.

“These investments will provide more 21st century job opportunities for our kids, more qualified employees for our local employers, and more economic resiliency for our communities,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in a statement. The lawmaker introduced an amendment to promote computer science programs that was ultimately adopted into the legislation.

The National Apprenticeship Act now heads to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for further consideration.

Senate HELP Committee spokesperson Maddy Russak said committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., is “pleased the House has passed this important legislation and is looking at all options to expand apprenticeship opportunities as quickly as possible.”

If enacted, the bill would mark the first time since 1937 that the national apprenticeship system has been comprehensively updated.

Dubbed the National Apprenticeship Act, the legislation also directs the agencies to find ways to inform parents and students no later than middle school of programs under the national apprenticeship system and their value in choosing careers.

In addition, the legislation instructs the Labor Department’s office of apprenticeship to award grants to expand national apprenticeship programs, including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, and to strengthen alignment between the apprenticeship system and education providers, according to a bill summary.

Industry Partnerships

The National Apprenticeship Act also charts a process for state agencies to gain recognition as state apprenticeship agencies, which would have sole authority over recognizing and registering pre-apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, or apprenticeship programs in their given states.

These agencies would be charged with determining whether apprenticeship programs are in compliance with federal apprenticeship standards, and providing a certificate of recognition for these programs, among other things.

Under the bill, certain private education entities also could receive grant funding if they provide apprenticeships.

The money can support industry partnerships, trade associations, “a group of employers,” and professional associations that sponsor or participate in a program under the national apprenticeship system.

Organizations backing the legislation include the National Skills Coalition, the Association for Career and Technical Education, and the National Urban League.

Photo of the U.S. Capitol by Susan Walsh/AP.


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A Big Focus on AI, and K-12 to College Transitions in USC’s Ed-Tech Accelerator Program

As the pandemic rages on, an ed-tech accelerator designed to support women- and minority-owned businesses is seeing a wave of new companies focused on transitioning beyond high school and college and bringing artificial intelligence or machine learning to education. 

The University of Southern California’s Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education program, and the companies in its third class have been forced to pivot because of the barriers imposed by COVID. 

The program has always had a strong virtual component, said Doug E. Lynch, a senior fellow at USC’s Rossier School of Education and the accelerator’s director. 

The program has always been run virtually to incentivize women and minority founders who would find it difficult to pick up and move to California to participate, said Lynch.  

Even so, the process for companies making a case to enter the program had to be adjusted to accommodate social distancing. 

“We’ve had to create several virtual pitching events, but we do that anyway,” Lynch said.  “We run pitch events for women founders and pitch events for founders of color that are virtual, that attract investors, but [the structure this year] was something different. In years past, people descended on USC, and there are some benefits to being able to bump into people in the hallway.” 

Still, the accelerator’s participants appreciate the opportunity to participate, even without getting to go pitch at USC. 

The program’s support for companies run by women and minorities, whose path to securing funding might normally run into obstacles, said Anna Ivey, the co-founder of CommonCoach, one of the companies in this year’s class. 

“I’m a female founder of a certain age,” said Ivey, who is a former University of Chicago Law School dean of admissions. “I’m not a young techie guy in a hoodie, I never have been, but that is typically who gets funded and who typically gets ed-tech media coverage, even when they have no subject matter expertise in higher ed or admissions.”

Lynch explained that one of the commonalities among this year’s cohort – an emphasis on transitions – might be related to the uncertainty COVID-19 has caused.  

This might be a reflection of the agita and the uncertainty around the economy,” he said. I’m going to go to college, will I get a good job? Should I go to college?  Should I go directly to work? How do I get skills for jobs?” 

The companies that Lynch categorized as focusing on life transitions include OpenLabCirkled in, Fluid Education, CommonCoach, Hughes Who Technologies Studio, Key Learning, Scholarships360 and 1Up Career Coaching. 

  • OpenLab is a laboratory simulation that uses Virtual Reality to teach students the skills and practices they will need to work in a research laboratory. 
  • Cirkled In is a portfolio platform that helps students to show colleges a profile of themselves that is more complete than just their test scores. 
  • Fluid Education matches students with educational and vocational opportunities and institutions with workforce development opportunities. 
  • CommonCoach is a browser plugin that guides students through the Common Application. 
  • Hughes Who Technologies Studio provides STEAM workshops for children and apprenticeships in the game industry for at-risk young adults.
    Key Learning is an app that helps refugees learn vocational skills. 
  • Scholarship360 connects students with scholarships. 
  • 1Up Career Coaching provides underserved professionals with coaching and networking opportunities to advance their careers. 

Ivey explained that her company is focusing on the transition between high school and college because of how inequality affects the higher education admissions process. 

Not everyone has parents who went to Princeton or have school-based counselors who have the bandwidth to help them with every single question and essay in the application,” she said. “There are all these wonderful digital tools out there that sit adjacent to the application. There are college match tools and scholarship search tools and there are tools for processing transcripts and recommendations.” 

But there hasn’t been a digital tool that helps students with the application itself.  

We are basically solving that lastmile problem,” she said. 

The other common thread among this year’s cohort is the use of artificial intelligence. He said that companies are experimenting with “using AI to personalize curriculum, using AI to better do formative assessments and using AI to better manage” programs. 

Among the companies in this year’s class focused on AI or machine learning: 

  • Jakapa provides periodic benchmark assessments to help students improve their soft skills. 
  • Prenostik uses machine learning to help STEM students succeed in online learning. 

Other companies in the cohort are AutoCognita, Breakthru and Royal Way. 

  • Autocognita is an app-based literacy program aiming to help both adults and children learn to read. 
  • Breakthru is a digital add-on that helps people build healthier relationships and improve their emotional and mental wellness. 
  • Royal Way adapts Virtual Reality for learning. 

Ivey said the program is opening doors for ed-tech companies that tend to get overlooked, despite the knowledge and specific skills they bring.

“It’s wonderful to be part of an accelerator that focuses on non-traditional founders, and understands that we have a wealth of expertise and experience for solving problems that need solving,” Ivey said. “In this particular accelerator, we are not the outliers.” 

Image by Getty


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