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Broad Congressional Proposal Would Raise Data Privacy Bar for Ed-Tech Companies

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Broad Congressional Proposal Would Raise Data Privacy Bar for Ed-Tech Companies

A recently released congressional proposal would trigger a swath of new requirements for how ed-tech companies handle K-12 student data they collect, and establish an independent auditing process for their data protection practices.

The drafter of the proposed measure, Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., is seeking input from ed-tech companies and other members of the K-12 community on what language should ultimately be included in final legislation she plans to introduce later this year.

The proposal suggests limiting usage of student data collected by education businesses in several ways, including prohibiting targeted advertising involving students’ personal information, and banning the sale of student data except in cases of company acquisitions and sales of test-score reports for college recruitment.

Trahan presented the proposed language to allow commercial transactions for test score data as one of several points of discussion for parents, educators, students, and industry, as her office works to craft a final bill sometime around early winter, she told EdWeek Market Brief in an interview.

Sale of test score data can be a contentious issue.

Privacy advocates often argue that assessment companies don’t thoroughly inform students and parents when selling data to colleges and scholarship providers. On the flip side, some civil rights advocates  assert that colleges’ purchases of test score data are useful for enrolling students from low-income school districts who may get overlooked by traditional recruitment efforts, Trahan noted.

“I believe that we can strike a thoughtful balance, and making this a point of discussion as we work on an updated draft of the legislation is key to achieving that,” she said.

Commenters have until Oct. 31 to provide input for final legislation to be introduced later this year.

In addition to prohibiting certain uses of student data, the draft legislation also outlines several allowable cases of student data disclosure for companies, including to ensure legal and regulatory compliance, participation in the judicial process, and research purposes allowed by federal or state law.

Trahan wants companies to share their views on the issue of allowable disclosure, including their experiences navigating state laws that trigger disclosure of student information, she said.

Small and midsize companies should also comment on the draft’s provision to establish “technology impact assessments” that examine the student-data collection practices of ed-tech companies, Trahan said.

The draft would task the Federal Trade Commission with organizing a process for technology impact assessments to be conducted by independent auditors of any education company deemed to host “high-risk” platforms for student data protection purposes.

Defining “High-Risk”

The draft bill defines several criteria for what would constitute “high-risk.”

Those  criteria include software platforms that pose a significant risk to privacy or security of students; store personal student information regarding race, national origin, political opinions, religion, sexual orientation, and criminal convictions; and, platforms that present the possibility of an inaccurate, unfair, biased, or discriminatory decision that impacts a student.

The independent technology impact assessments would be required to describe the data that companies collect, provide a risk analysis considering harms to students, discrimination, and accessibility; and, explain companies’ risk mitigation processes.

The draft bill identifies the provision for independent auditors to conduct technology impact assessments as a point of discussion for K-12 stakeholders to have in the leadup to a final bill.

Ed tech, including artificial intelligence-influenced ed tech, is not subject to the same certification requirements as other critical industries, such as the legal and accounting professions, which require many practitioners to undergo continuing education and outside auditing processes, Trahan said.

“Ideally, legislation like ours could provide the incentive to scholars and standards-making bodies to create a certified [ed tech] industry,” she said. “But you don’t arrive there until you hear from small and midsized companies so that we can understand the burden that may come with them hiring potentially expensive, and currently uncertified auditors.”

Though the draft bill  has not been formally introduced in Congress yet, Trahan hopes to work across party lines, as well as with lawmakers interested in relevant tech topics like AI, as her office draws up final legislation. Twenty-seven House lawmakers compose the bipartisan Congressional AI Caucus.

The draft measure is “extremely comprehensive,” and the public participation process will allow the K-12 community to address any potential gaps they might see in the legislation, said Ariel Fox, senior counsel for global policy at Common Sense Media.

Fox lauded the proposal for  establishing a formal process for external audits of companies’ data protection practices. In recent years, such provisions have generally been left out of ed-tech legislation proposed within the U.S.

The impact assessment provisions draw from language embedded in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, and the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code. Both of those regulations direct companies covered by the regulations to deeply vet how their software impacts users’ privacy.

“A concept that we see a lot in international laws is this notion that companies should really take a hard look at what they’re doing with data, what they’re collecting, why they’re collecting it,” Fox said. “It’s exciting to see that in her proposal as well.”

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Pace of Mergers and Acquisitions in Education Market Jumps, New Analysis Finds

pace of mergers and acquisitions in education market jumps new analysis finds
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The total value of mergers and acquisitions in the education industry grew by more than 50 percent from the second half of 2020 to the first half of this year, as companies across the market rushed to add to their portfolios, according to a report by investment banking firm Berkery Noyes.

The overall number of individual M&A transactions also rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

Education companies closed 240 acquisitions in the first six months of 2021, up from 222 deals in the second half of 2020, and 210 mergers in the first half of last year. There were 238 acquisitions in the education industry in the second half of 2019.M&AGraph

The total value of education acquisitions from January through June was $19.4 billion, largely driven by Platinum Equity’s $6.4-billion acquisition of McGraw Hill, the report noted.

Deals made during this period had nearly as much value as mergers and acquisitions for the full year of 2020, when they totaled $21.4 billion.

The investment group, which provides advice and financial consulting to middle-market companies in the technology and information sectors, tracked 1,152 education deals between 2019 and June 2021.

Private equity financed 40 percent of acquisitions during the first half of this year, 8 percent higher than the 2019-2021 overall average.

According to Berkery Noyes, 97 of the 240 deals during this time frame were financed by private equity, venture capital, or some other investment firm, the most in at least three years and a 131 percent increase over the first half of 2020.

Twelve deals in the first half of this year carried values of more than $100 million, and at least seven of those involved the K-12 sector. About one-third of the total transactions had values between $4.5 million and $54.6 million.

K-12 media and tech surpassed professional training services as the education industry’s most active market segment year-to-date.

There were about 50 acquisitions that involved professional training services and roughly 40 deals that involved K-12 media and tech in the second half of last year, while nearly 60 deals touched K-12 media and tech and about 45 deals covered professional training services in the first half of 2021.

The report showed a mixed picture for market activity in various segments for the first six months of this year compared with the second half of 2020.

The rate of deals in the childcare services and higher-ed media and tech spaces increased during this span, but the number of deals in professional training technology, higher-ed institutions, and K-20 services fell. Deals involving K-12 institutions remained stable.

In addition to the McGraw Hill acquisition, notable K-12 deals in the first half of 2021 included a Byju’s purchase of Indian tutoring provider Aakash Educational Services for $900 million, Renaissance’s $650 million acquisition of Nearpod, and Kahoot’s $435 billion addition of K-12 single-sign-on provider Clever.

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DreamBox Learning Acquires Reading Plus in Expansion Into English Curriculum

dreambox learning acquires reading plus in expansion into english curriculum
dreambox acquires reading plus

DreamBox Learning is acquiring the adaptive literacy program Reading Plus, marking the ed-tech provider’s expansion into reading curriculum.

Prior to the merger, DreamBox Learning, which was founded in Washington state in 2006, has been a K-8 digital math program that aims to tailor lessons to students’ needs by using technology that differentiates questions in real time based on how students solve problems.

With Reading Plus, DreamBox Learning says it is bringing on board an evidence-based, program designed to boost students’ literacy skills in grades 3-12. The program is used in more than 7,800 schools by more than 1 million students, according to the company.

The move comes after DreamBox acquired Squiggle Park, an early literacy program for students in K-2. With both programs, the company can expand its K-12 reach and offer schools a dual-discipline program, according to the announcement released July 19.

“We believe the winning formula to shape the future of learning has three components,” said Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President and CEO of DreamBox Learning in announcing the acquisitions. “Dual-discipline offerings that cultivate a strong foundation in mathematics and reading; strong data and analytics solutions that leverage formative data to personalize the learning experience; and professional development to help educators develop their blended learning knowledge and skills.”

Dream Box says it currently serves more than 5 million students and 200,000 educators in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, according to the announcement.

The company grew during the pandemic as school districts scaled up their online programs to switch to entirely remote learning.

“DreamBox’s mission-driven leadership, adaptive learning model, and third-party validation made the decision to join forces a natural next step for Reading Plus,” Steven Guttentag, CEO of Reading Plus, said in the statement.

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

k 12 dealmaking goguardian acquires formative assessment platform tutoring startup becomes europes latest unicorn
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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

how one company adapted its pd for covid and beyond a case study
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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

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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.

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How the Rise of New Publicly Traded Education Companies Will Shake Up the Market

how the rise of new publicly traded education companies will shake up the market
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A new class of special purpose acquisition companies could give rise to a constellation of publicly traded education companies, with more visibility and greater access to capital.

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

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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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