What Will Schools Look Like in the Future?

What Will Schools Look Like in the Future?

November 29, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


It’s a tragedy that, as the world outside
school changes faster and faster, the majority of American kids are not being
set up to succeed in the future that’s coming. We’re entering a world where
there’s not a lot of value in just kind of sitting there
and doing what you’re told. Increasingly a computer
could do that kind of stuff. We are eventually going to create a new model of education suited to the 21st century, instead of the last half of the 19th century. This is going to happen. We’re just trying to make it happen sooner. My name is Max Ventilla, and I’m
the founder and CEO of AltSchool. Working in Silicon Valley, and
being at Google, and living here, it’s kind of impossible not to
have it shape your worldview and to believe that a mission-
driven technology company can have an incredible impact, beneficially, on the world. And being a parent of young kids there’s
really nothing I can think of that is more important than their education
that I can be working on. As an entrepreneur you have that startup bug. You need to work on something that catches
you, and this was the thing that caught me. There is this problem, which is that the
model that we have for educating kids, it is a mass production model,
it is a factory model. It doesn’t provide an individualized
experience to anybody. Every 45 minutes kids switch
to a different subject, and they open a textbook, and
they read the next chapter. And at the end of the week they take a quiz. That experience is teaching kids
how to think like computers. And that’s not going to be very valuable
when these kids actually grow up to be adults. If you’re trying to fundamentally
transform the education experience, that is not something that you can just
whiteboard with a bunch of research, and a bunch of smart people in a room somewhere. You have to learn what that model looks like. For us, that meant immediately, almost
from starting the company, opening a school. And then we opened three more schools,
and then we opened three more schools, and now we’re opening two more schools
that are focused on personalized education. Each child defines their own experience
to learn in a way that feels natural, takes advantage of their curiosity and that doesn’t try and corral them to
learn this thing right now, in this way. And that’s where technology plays a
foundational role versus a superficial role. There are two tools that fundamentally
enable personalization in our schools. One tool is called the Portrait. So this is a representation of all of the
things that are important about each child that different people can add to for
curating a day-to-day education experience that’s going meet them where they are. That maps to a second tool,
which we call the playlist, which is the, the kind of
scaffold for each child’s day. It’s a to do list, and a calendar. It allows each child to decide
what order they do things, or they can decide what’s on
that playlist as they get older. It’s allowing a child to have agency. None of us like being told what we need
to do, when, where, how, with whom. There’s nothing that’s more
demotivating than that. And if you’re not motivated,
you don’t actually learn. There’s no way to force a kid to learn. They have to actually go along with a certain
experience, they have to actually think. What we see is incredibly promising
out of the gates in the first two years. We’re seeing much more than a year’s worth
of progress on kind of nationally norm tests. But, as importantly, they’re making
progress on the social, emotional pillars. Things like grit, ability to work with
others, ability to manage your time, to set goals that are going
to serve those kids critically when they enter a world that’s going to demand
those kind of characteristics from them. I mean my daughter is going
to have a different life because this is the kind of
school that she went to. I love this Bill Gates quote, that, humans tend to overestimate what
we can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what we
can accomplish in ten. First year, it probably costs
us $100,000 per student. The next year it’s like 60,000, the next year
it’s like 35,000, this coming year it’s like 25,000. I think that when you get down
to about $15,000 per student, now you’re in the realm of the kind of median
experience in lots of parts of America. There are lots of public school districts
that
spend way more than that on average. We’re starting to say okay, how do we take the platform that we
use to support our own schools, And how do we expand that
platform with partners? We’re just starting to work
with the first set of partners who would open schools
which aren’t run by us. It’s on that path that eventually
you get to what you want. A new ecosystem where all schools,
existing schools and new schools, are able to take advantage of a new
way to educate kids for their future. There’s literally a technology company
behind their school working tirelessly. That’s the kind of ten-year future
that we believe is possible. In general a startup is hard.
In general a startup takes a long time. One that’s trying to do something
this ambitious in this space, that’s twice as true, ten times as true. This is mile three of a marathon, and I feel good.