AltSchool Hub

Scaling a Personalized Education Model: Reflections on the Past Twelve Months

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Mar 4, 2015 7:53:00 AM

Last March we announced $33 Million in funding from Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, and other leading investors. Since then AltSchool has opened three additional schools, increased enrollment from 20 to 150 students and more than tripled company headcount – from 30 to 100+ employees. Over 2,200 candidates applied for 20 new teacher spots in 2014. This fall, AltSchool will open new schools from California to New York to accommodate 500 students in 2015.

Square0558At AltSchool, scale is at the heart of our approach. In fact, AltSchool is built in such a way that the more we grow, the more we are able to improve experiences for everyone involved. The bigger we get, the more feedback we can collect from students, parents, and teachers; the more best-practices and knowledge we can share internally through our product and community; and the more we can empower teachers and parents to create personalized experiences for each student.

Today, as we begin a new chapter by welcoming domain experts to our executive team in Engineering, Safety, Product Management, and Finance, we’re sharing achievements from the past twelve months that will set us up for continued growth and innovation.

Expanding from Single to Networked Schools

When we started AltSchool, our goal was to build a network of schools rather than a standalone school. That networked approach enables us to simultaneously maintain small, intimate class sizes while expanding to more students and families. In 2014, we successfully grew from a single school to four schools in San Francisco and will open in Palo Alto and Brooklyn later this year while we add expand to two additional neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The AltSchool platform is built for sharing knowledge across our teacher network; it enables our educators to actively create curriculum in ways that make it easy for other educators to access and build on the work of others throughout subsequent years. During 2014, our technology empowered educators to track and manage every facet of their students’ education; moving towards a future we often describe as “Montessori 2.0.”

The first step has been logging and tagging curriculum choices within the platform. Beginning this year, our system will start “pushing” information to educators to help them to proactively enhance students’ learning – from discovering the best techniques to teach difficult algebra problems to recommending phonics tools that are particularly useful for beginning readers. AltSchool educators will have a rich pool of resources to draw from to build personalized learning plans for individual students or to enhance the classroom experience by sourcing vetted best practices from other educators within the network.

Collecting and Actioning Real-time Student, Parent, and Teacher Feedback

AltSchool actively solicits and drives internal improvement by collecting regular feedback from three critical stakeholders: students, parents, and teachers. We have three internal teams who are respectively focused on increasing the satisfaction of each group. This way, students, parents, and teachers are co-creators in the educational experience and AltSchool can respond in real-time to their needs.

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In 2014, we asked students to evaluate and rank their education experience at AltSchool. Students shared their perspective on ten categories that included everything from interest in subjects to their classroom environment. Based on student preferences, we are “unbundling” extracurricular activities, restructuring the balance of indoor versus outdoor play spaces and finding new ways to incorporate video into the academic experience.

For parents, our focus began with a goal of continuous and efficient communication, a system in which information flows in both directions. But our commitment to parent satisfaction extends beyond that; we also rely on parents to help us shape our schools and inform our products. Over the past year, we introduced quarterly Parent Satisfaction Surveys. Through our survey program, we learned that parents prefer to be notified about their child’s learning achievements differently, depending on the type of information being shared. For example, parents might like to see a video of their five year-old reading her first sentence immediately, while an update on a long-term project may be better communicated in a weekly Learning Update.

Moving forward, we’re developing a newsfeed-like resource to support real-time updates on student progress, as well as a Learning Progression datasheet (a cumulative overview that summarizes key information to track students’ progress against standards). We also learned that parents want more opportunities to connect with other AltSchool families. We recently hired a Head of Community to work with parents to accelerate and nurture classroom, site, and network-wide relationships.

We’ve also implemented a series of programs to support and help empower our teachers. For example, each month teachers take a 130-point Teacher Satisfaction Survey to proactively evaluate how we can improve their experience. That includes everything from offering professional development opportunities to how well substitute teachers perform to lunch options. Our School Experience Committee meets with teachers on a weekly basis to shape policies in a way that will ensure their success. Plus, we’ve leveraged a customer support portal to manage day-to-day workflow as issues arise. In the past year alone we’ve processed hundreds of requests from educators, solving actual teacher problems in real-time so that they can focus on students.  

Offline Learning Augmented by Increased Digital Tracking and Monitoring

Square1162The majority of student learning at AltSchool happens away from a screen. Technology, however, enables us to document and track progress in each student’s Learner Portrait, a sort of supercharged transcript. Technology allows us to capture all aspects of a student’s work, including a teacher’s assessment and the student’s own reflection on each assignment.

Next year, the amount of real-world work captured digitally in a Learner Portrait will more than double. This documentation supercharges teachers' abilities to communicate the richness of the school day home to parents and create digital student portfolios. Such tools also help to consolidate information for teachers to review more efficiently and to showcase examples of completed student work for future reference.

We also successfully prototyped several tools to impact personalization, with many more to be integrated into our platform next year. For example, the Teacher Observation Tool is an iPad / iPhone software product that gives educators an easy way to capture scans of learning artifacts in the classroom and away from school so that the information is directly absorbed into the AltSchool Learning Cycle suite of products. As we find more ways to learn from the community outside of the classroom, we are leveraging technology that enables us to integrate these experiences into our digital learning platform.

These changes reflect our ideology in action, always using first principles as our guide to completely reimagine education from the ground up. We look forward to sharing more behind-the-scenes updates about how we’re working to make AltSchool’s vision of a modern, 21st century education a reality for all children.

Read our March 4, 2015 press release announcing new additions to our leadership team: https://www.altschool.com/press-release-3-15 

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Topics: AltSchool Innovation, AltSchool in the Press