Silicon Valley’s attempt to disrupt education

AltSchool to personalize education for students by using big data
Illustration: Mrzyk & Moriceau for BOLD
Illustration: Mrzyk & Moriceau for BOLD

Entrepreneurs out of Silicon Valley have harnessed the power of technology and data to disrupt industries ranging from public transportation and communication, to space travel and television. Is education next?

Ex-Google executive Max Ventilla has just that idea in mind with AltSchool, an education technology startup based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since its inception in 2013, AltSchool has opened eight private elementary and middle schools in California and New York, with plans to expand with two more schools in 2017.

Randy Rieland explored the inner workings of the company’s “lab schools,” as they are called, in his feature article “How AltSchool Is Personalizing Education By Collecting Loads of Data on Its Students” for Smithsonian Magazine. Each lab school has no more than 75 students and emphasizes personalized education. AltSchool founder Ventilla drew on his time at Google developing user profiles based on behavior to create customized lesson plans for every student, which are molded by data on students’ interests, passions, strengths, and weaknesses.

Ultimately, the startup wants to disseminate its outside-the-box teaching methods to existing schools around the world through AltSchool Open, a partnership program that offers its proprietary software. For instance, teachers can keep tabs on students’ academic and emotional development with a tool called Learning Progression. Stream is a mobile app for parents that fill them in on their child’s progress.

AltSchool hopes to use the data from these partner schools to strengthen their software and increase the quality of teaching. Technology makes mass personalization possible – in advertising, medicine, etc. – and AltSchool wants to bring that tool to the classroom and do away with cookie-cutter education.