Two-year-old education startup AltSchool is re-imagining the traditional school system.
To pursue its mission of preparing children for the real world, the startup has poached talent from Google, Uber, Rocket Fuel, and Zynga.
AltSchool announced Wednesday that it has hired former Googler Bharat Mediratta, who was the engineer responsible for Google.com’s homepage and search results, as its CTO.
AltSchool also poached Michael Ginty, who served as Uber’s Head of Global Security, to become AltSchool’s head of safety. In addition, AltSchool has hired Sue Yoon, formerly a VP of corporate development at Rocket Fuel, to be its VP of finance, and Rajiv Bhatia, who was director of product and studio GM at Zynga, to be its VP of product.
Founded by ex-Googler Max Ventilla in 2013, AltSchool creates a network of schools for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. Each school, called a “microschool,” has about 100 students that learn in multi-age groups, and in larger, multipurpose classrooms than in a typical school.
Each school has very few shared common spaces, and unlike a typical school, there are no principals on-site.
Instead, administrative duties are centralized, within specialised teams — Ventilla, who was part of the founding team for Google+, says there are teams for things like teacher recruitment and real estate.
AltSchool’s belief is that education today is fundamentally flawed. AltSchool feels the vast majority of people becoming adults today are not set up for that success — and that’s largely because they’re not receiving an education that’s really preparing them to be happy and successful.
To solve that problem, AltSchool has created a proprietary technology platform for child-centered learning. AltSchool uses something called “playlists,” which consist of a weekly mix of 20 to 25 activities per student per week, including individual projects, small-group projects, or whole-class projects.
“You may have a group of students building a historically and scale-accurate block from 1906 in San Francisco in Minecraft. You may have another group of students building a catapult or researching the way sundials work,” Ventilla says. Each child’s playlist’s items always tie back to specific goals and milestones they’re pursuing in their personalised learning plans.
Ventilla says AltSchool is focusing on the long-term, and he sees AltSchool as a “multi-decade” project.
“We’re raising funds on that time scale. Our CTO who just joined has a ten-year vest that ends in 2027. That’s amazing to have someone who has their equity tied to that kind of time scale,” he says.
“I think the most important longterm focus for all of us is we’re building this for our own children. My one-and-a-half-year-old will graduate from AltSchool middle school. Or who knows? We may have a high school by then. So it’s very clear what I’m going to be doing for the next 15-plus years.”
AltSchool’s mission is to enable all children to achieve their full potential. The startup wants more people becoming adults every year that are able and ready to thrive in the 21st century. To do that, AltSchool tackles education in a full-stack way: It oversees every aspect of the education experience, from figuring out where to put schools, to creating a technology platform, to communicating with parents.
Tuition is steep: $US20,000 in San Francisco, and even higher in Palo Alto because of real estate costs.
“That’s considerably lower than comparable schools, certainly schools with similar quality educators,” Ventilla says. Some students can qualify for financial aid, however.
“We have way more demand in any given year than we have spots for, but we aim by the next year to have as much capacity as we would have needed to satisfy all the people on our wait list,” Ventilla says.
For applicants, AltSchool isn’t so much focused on writing an application essay or filling out a questionnaire quite the right way.
“It’s the kind of student and family interviews where we’re able to get to know your needs as a family, and see what other groups of families that are applying to nearby AltSchools does it make sense to put you in the same classroom with,” Ventilla says.
When a playlist item is done, it doesn’t just get filed away — it goes through a process of real-time assessment. Students may be asked to answer some questions to demonstrate that they understand the material, or they take a picture and upload their project, which becomes part of their living, digital record. Then, teachers can provide feedback and assess whether the student showed competence completing the assignment.
Parents also have an app they can use to get feedback quickly and efficiently on how their child is doing in school and what he or she is learning.
A year ago, AltSchool raised $US33 million in a Series A round of funding from Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz. Since then, AltSchool has opened three more schools — growing from 20 students to 150 and tripling its employee headcount from 30 to more than 100. And this fall, AltSchool will open new schools in Palo Alto and Brooklyn to accommodate 500 students this year.