AltSchool, a network of “micro-schools” spread across the San Francisco Bay Area and Brooklyn, New York, is constantly being talked about in the education world. It seems Silicon Valley is just as enamoured.
In a new interview with The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead, AltSchool founder Max Ventilla compares the up-and-coming startup to companies like Facebook and Uber. Like many tech giants popular among venture capitalists, it marries real life and software.
“Facebook started as, essentially, a bulletin board for Harvard students,” Ventilla tells Mead. “Uber started as a private chauffeur that Garrett (Camp, Uber’s founder) hired and rode around with.”
“This is a relatively common occurrence,” Ventilla continues. “You start in a very narrow way that you control and that really represents a kind of fundamentally different approach. And then you iterate.”
In 2013, Ventilla quit his job as head of personalisation at Google to disrupt a different space: the schoolhouse. Teachers and a team of in-house technologists work together to build digital platforms that cater the curriculum to students’ strengths, weaknesses, and interests.
It’s not uncommon to walk into a classroom and find mixed-aged kids tackling an assignment on an iPad, or kindergartners snapping photos of their activity worksheets and uploading them to the cloud.
Mead explains that AltSchool is neither a software company nor a brick-and-mortar schoolhouse. It has to be both to achieve its goal of transforming the outdated, 1900s model of elementary education for the digital age.
“AltSchool is what Silicon Valley people call a ‘full-stack’ company, meaning that it is not just concerned with software,” Mead writes. “Most education-technology startups do not operate any schools.” She cites the famous Khan Academy, which offers free, short lectures in the form of YouTube videos, as an example.
In 2015, Wired’s Issie Lapowsky reported that AltSchool would one day package its myriad of digital learning tools and licence them as a bundle to existing schools around the world. That’s still the plan.
Ventilla and his team will continue to develop the software within its micro-school ecosystem over the next three to five years, before offering it for use in public schools.
AltSchool has raised over $130 million in venture capital, funding its rapid expansion. It’s adding five more schools in 2017, with locations in San Francisco, Manhattan, and Chicago.