"I am hopeful that the public school system will emerge potentially stronger, but I feel that it's going to take leadership from policy makers, administrators, all of those that have a stake in our public education system. I do feel that the system is very vulnerable right now. And I do feel that parents, because they have options and teachers, teachers are really important piece of this because they have options, now they're leaving the system in record numbers. And by the way, they're going to these online platforms that we've talked to and they also want more flexible work and different types of work structures that work with their family. And yet they don't have that option in the current system. So these factors combined together create somewhat of a perfect storm that's going to threaten the long-term survival of the public school system." - Jennifer Carolan
Our guest today is Jennifer Carolan. Jennifer started her career as a classroom teacher in a Chicago district. She then moved to California to attend Stanford, and there got inspired to use her teaching experience in support of tech founders. So she joined NewSchools Venture Fund where she learned the craft of VC, while also co-creating and teaching a course at Stanford. After that, Jennifer co-founded Reach Capital, with a first fund in 2000, a second fund in 2018 and a third fund more recently.
In this episode, Jennifer and I talk about how student engagement is an outcome of strong pedagogy. We then describe a new generation of global education companies that are partnering with school districts and we caution policy makers that need to rise to the occasion in order to keep innovation from escaping the public school system. Finally we talk about different promising edtech categories and end up with the conclusion that parents are the stakeholders that still lack a lot of support in the ecosystem.
Here are some quotes from our discussion:
04:21 - There's real science, learning science, behind pedagogy and what we know about how kids and adults learn. And I think that the startups that have tapped into that knowledgebase and really read the literature and try to understand the learning science behind their products do a great job at creating products that then engage. And also I think that an important piece is how they measure that engagement. And so a company that I'm on the board of, Outschool, they have this great metric called "love of learning" and they actually look at once a child has taken a class online, they ask the parents "has a child then pursued that learning outside of the class?" And I just love that approach because they're really tapping into "does this light the child on fire and with learning and get them to seek out their own learning and have the self agency to learn?" And ultimately we know that, later in life, your ability to pursue your own learning and really be the captain of your own learning journeys is really important.
08:06 - A lot of products that came before Outschool that sought to be open, live, online marketplaces for learning tended to be one-on-one tutoring, test prep, and part of Outschool's magic wa they've pursued passion-driven learning, interest-driven learning as we call it. And it's in a social context. So children are learning with kids from all over the world. And they're learning from each other, from the teacher, they're playing off of each other's thoughts and perspectives and ideas, and that's a very engaging environment for children.
09:40 - We're seeing a new generation of global education companies that are growing more rapidly than ever before. Outschool is a great example of them. So the time from their inception, their funding, to the time of where they have a third of their growth outside the U S, is faster than it's ever been and with fewer dollars spent on that marketing and growth overseas. So I think in the case of Outschool, I feel that once a marketplace hits a certain size, hits a certain velocity in size, it is hard to compete against them. And Outschool has done such a fantastic job of executing on this vision.
12:04 - The latest estimates for this coming school year is that between 5% and 8% of students will be leaving to take class online, to join virtual schools or independent studies. And you combine that with the 6% of charter schools, 6% of students that attend charters, and then another 8% to 9% that are choosing to go private and you see that the public school system is being eaten away at by these different models of education. And I see that trend increasing, in part because parents want choice for their children and there's a trend towards personalized learning and just a sense that the one-size-fits-all model of education is no longer serving all of it students. Well, and, and truth is it never did, but now we have more options, more models that parents can choose from. So I do feel that the trend is that privatization and the somewhat consumerization of education will continue.
14:56 - I feel that for many kids, including myself, when I was growing up, the public schools were the only option that we had. So, what I do have have lifelong frustration with and still am working against that feeling, is that the public schools don't adopt innovation quickly enough, and they are having traditionally not served all of their students well. So I wrote my master's thesis at Stanford on personalized learning and how the best teachers in some of these schools were personalizing their instruction and curriculum, and that sort of idea that a teacher can not take a one-size-fits-all approach to their instruction, but to really respond to the individual learning needs of each child in the classroom is still something that I am very optimistic and hopeful for.
16:35 - I am hopeful that the public school system will emerge potentially stronger, but I feel that it's going to take leadership from policy makers, administrators, all of those that have a stake in our public education system. I do feel that the system is very vulnerable right now. And I do feel that parents, because they have options and teachers, teachers are really important piece of this because they have options, now they're leaving the system in record numbers. And by the way, they're going to these online platforms that we've talked to and they also want more flexible work and different types of work structures that work with their family. And yet they don't have that option in the current system. So these factors combined together create somewhat of a perfect storm that's going to threaten the long-term survival of the public school system.
18:08 - Previously, this concept of virtual learning was outsourced by districts and they would outsource it to Stride or Connections, or any of these outside providers of a 'virtual school in a box', essentially. That was largely because the school districts didn't have the regulatory freedom to be able to create their own virtual schools. Well, with COVID, some of the states are now passing laws like in California, SB-130, which actually requires school districts to have an independent study option for students. And for the first time we are seeing districts create their own virtual schools rather than outsourcing it. And I think that once schools have the freedom that charter schools have had, and other groups have had to design their own virtual program and the resources, I think that they can come up with incredible options for students.
Here are some resources mentioned in our discussion:
- A tweet by Jennifer encapsulating her belief in pedagogy-led edtech startups
- Our conversation with Amir from Outschool
- Jennifer's hopeful piece on EdSurge serving as a call to action for policy makers
- Jennifer's tweet highlighting the increased collaboration between school districts and startups
- The Chart of the Century
- Reach Capital's companies, including the ones mentioned in our discussion - https://www.reachcapital.com/companies/
- Harari's book mentioned by Jennifer as a good depiction of the new age we need to prepare students for - https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons-book/
- A particular mention of Guardians Collective, mentioned by Jennifer as an interesting model to support parents - https://www.aboutgc.com
Where to learn more about Jennifer:
Twitter - https://twitter.com/jencarolan
Website - https://www.reachcapital.com
Where to learn more about Enrollhand:
Our webinar: https://webinar-replay.enrollhand.com