AltSchool is a micro-school system with the goal of technical reinvention. It established four schools which are totally different from the traditional school system. It aimed to develop bold ideas and technology for use by other schools for their own curriculum.
The idea was to create a school, and discover insights within the school that will lead to new techniques, as well as development of new software and apps.
Traditionally, the education system has proved that it is resistant to change. There are only a few things which have changed in the school system in the last 30 to 50 years. AltSchool is a laboratory for new tools, methods and theories. The founder, Max Ventilla wanted a school which had “personalized” learning, with the latest technology, and the best teachers. Each child had lessons tailored to their individual needs, strengths and weaknesses.
Developers would use new things that educators learned from the school to turn into technologies to be sold to other schools. The selling point of the venture was not that it was a better school, but the technologies being developed.
AltSchool has raised more than $175 million to reinvent education. Among the venture capitalists which have contributed to the funding are Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Reed Hastings of Netflix, and Mark Benioff of Salesforce.com.
Founded in 2013, AltSchool built 7 locations in the Bay Area and New York. Today, there only 4 remaining schools open. It has 35 to 120 students per school, with tuition of $20,000 to $30,000 per year. It is also losing money as it spends around $40 million per year. It does not have a lack of investors as it has $60 million still in bank, and can raise funds at any time it needs to. For a startup it has lots of runway.
This is what some parents say in defending the school, that the school does not have to explain itself to the students or the parents, it has to explain to the investors. The idea was to create a school, and discover insights within the school that will lead to new techniques, as well as development of new software and apps. At some point in the near future, these would be sold to other schools, while the school itself continues. The parents understand that their children would be guinea pigs in this educational experiment.
There is much to learn from the school. It provides a high level of independence in learning for each student. There is a high teacher-to-student ratio, allowing for more interaction between students and staff. The students have allotted computer or tablet time, and assigned individual learning plans.
The classes also have closed-circuit TV recording the students’ activities. The results of the activities are also uploaded to the internet for the review of the teachers and sharing with the parents. The children engage in different activities during the day following a Personalized Learning Plan. The activities include research for a project, a separate group project and interdisciplinary work. The school follows the Common Core curriculum, but it does not have traditional grade levels. The students are all between 4 and 14, and are divided into 3 groups or classes corresponding to lower elementary, upper elementary and middles school. AltSchool only teaches up to the equivalent of Grade 8.
Up to 2015, the plans called for opening 5 more schools by 2017, in Manhattan, Chicago and San Francisco. Part of the plan was to sell software to public schools around 2018 to 2020. Shutting down schools affects the students and the parents, but if the company will sell learning software soon, then the investors might turn happy.