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Request for Education Startups (ycombinator.com)
178 points by hobaak on Sept 25, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments

Naval Ravikant's tweetstorm today is highly relevant to this [1]:

1/ If the primary purpose of school was education, the Internet should obsolete it. But school is mainly about credentialing.

2/ Schools survive anti-educational behavior (i.e. groupthink) due to symbiosis between institutions that issue and accept credentials.

3/ Employers looking past traditional credentials can arbitrage the gap. @ycombinator made $Bs doing this for young founders.

4/ The more meritocratic an industry, the faster it moves away from false credentialing. I.e., the MBA and tech startups.

5/ A generation of auto-didacts, educated by the Internet & leveraged by technology, will eventually starve the industrial-education system.

6/ Until then, only the most desperate and talented students will make the leap.

7/ Even today, what to study and how to study it are more important than where to study it and for how long.

8/ The best teachers are on the Internet. The best books are on the Internet. The best peers are on the Internet.

9/ The tools for learning are abundant. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce.

10/ Educational credentials are badges that admit one to the elite class. Expect elites to struggle mightily to justify the current system.

11/ Eventually, the tide of the Internet and rational, self-interested employers will create and accept efficient credentialing...

12/ ...and wash away our obsolete industrial-education system.

[1]: https://twitter.com/naval/status/912220382450524160

Respectfully, I disagree with a lot of the points here.

School isn't just about credentialing or dishing out information. You learn a lot about interacting with others, getting a social life, developing relationships with different people, discovering more about yourself and the list goes on. Even a bad experience is still an experience.

I'm in the digital learning field and can get doe-eyed about the potential of tech. But the Internet will never replace teachers. Many online courses can be excellent alternatives to class-learning, but not everyone learns best from sole Internet use or auto-didacting. And of course, when you do have a good teacher, that's irreplaceable.

Credentials can be a form of an elitist badge - so if this is the problem, then perhaps the best way to tackle it is to change mindsets, rather than change the whole system. Many good employers seem to be aware of this already.

I sometimes lean towards meritocracy too but it is terribly dangerous to apply Darwinism to education. Education is a right. Everyone NEEDS education, regardless of who they are and their level of natural intelligence. If the system starts favouring a certain type of people, or worse, implement a Darwinist funnel, that would be tragic for the majority of people, and will have a dangerous impact on society overall.

I think that there needs to be a delineation between undergraduate education and secondary/primary education. With undergraduate education, I think there is a good case to be made that it is about credentialing. Many undergrad students, just via the filter that is the admissions process, are capable and likely going to be tax-payers and not tax-users, so-to-speak.

For primary/secondary education, it is about education. However, it's not just math and history education, it's how to be an adult as well. School dances, sports, yearbook, school newspaper, etc. are all education for young adults just like knowing to let others finish their sentences, not using violence when frustrated, or that looking at porn in the stairwell is not a good way to woo your crush. Education is more of a socialization 'thingy' than a just knowledge one. As such, you need role-models, teachers, and mentors in your life, not on a screen that you can turn off when you don't like what they are saying. Education, in the HS time period of puberty, is not fit for a consumer model as it takes true sacrifice.

"You learn a lot about interacting with others, getting a social life, developing relationships with different people, discovering more about yourself and the list goes on."

This. Very important, and this process is made much more effective if parents or teachers or other adults are with the young on that journey to coach them. Not easy to do online as you need to see the young people in their everyday interactions.

"But the Internet will never replace teachers."

I'm not sure. The point isn't to replace teachers, is it? You can get to great teachers, mentors and peers through other means, schools aren't the only source of teachers for the young.

You can follow thinkers, business people etc. online, and reach out to them or their communities, and that effectively can act as a teacher.

You can actually meat with people who become your teachers/mentors because you engaged in online activities.

None of these require an institution, and specifically, poorly run schools will actually promote groupthink and monoculture. It's good balance to get some experience and 'education' outside the regular system for diversity.

I was referring to OP's eighth point, "the best teachers are on the Internet." Sorry if that was vague.

Yeah schools aren't perfect either, but it's very hard to replicate the teacher role online. Peers yes, but I'll eat my hat if anyone can come up with a digital platform that allows students and teachers (totally strangers) to connect and build relationships that last for years.

You might accidentally bump into a mentor, but that's extreeeemely rare. It's a nice dream though, hope it happens to me one day. But in all my time as an active participant in online courses (small sample, I know) the most personal interaction I got was someone reaching out via private messaging. This is totally within expectation though, many of us still unconsciously regard the Internet space as not really real.

Now that you wrote it, I feel like I was idealizing the online potential by thinking "you can get online to the right people", but that only helps if you can then meet them in person. Otherwise it's just online contact, which at scale may not be that awesome.

Ycombinator doesn't care about credentials?

Sam Alton - Stanford Drew Houston - mit Collision brothers - mit/harvard Airbnb guys - RISD

We could go on, so let's do...

Please tell me honestly if you think google Facebook Amazon Microsoft would be where they were without the "traditional credentials" of their founders? Stanford, harvard, Princeton, harvard, respectively.

At this point all these SV demigods like Ravikant (Dartmouth/Stuyvesant-look it up) are just being irresponsible getting kids' hope up.

I'd argue that you could have locked zuckerberg, gates and the rest of them in a closet for 5 years with a computer and they would have still gone on to do amazing stuff. Is it harvard, yale etc that made these people great or was it something that was already in them? Their drive to innovate and passion for exploration is what made them successful, not harvard.

Do those folks really count as traditional credentials?

Google founders suspended their Ph.D. programs.

Bezos has a BS.

Gates dropped out.

Zuckerberg dropped out.

> Gates dropped out.

> Zuckerberg dropped out.

Both of them managed to get into Harvard, which is an academic achievement in itself though.

Not as much really as it is about who you know.

Yes they are a signal at the key initiating step.

> The best books are on the Internet.

I'm neutral on many of these points, except this one. This is simply not true. The Internet can be incredibly shallow on a very wide range of topics. I mean maybe if you have access to University Library systems etc...but I don't think that's the "Internet" you mean.

I hope this will get better, although the impetus to make the Internet deeper seems to have slacked off recently.

Agreed. I've payed out north of $100 several times for old print copies of books which simply aren't available in digital form (not even as sketchy scanned PDFs on piracy sites, trust me, I tried).

I mean, it's not exactly the most kosher thing to do (though you can usually get actual oficially released ebooks for the newer stuff), but you can usually get PDF versions of whatever textbook you want on the internet.

I know about a guy with a serious hoarding syndrome, who has hundreds of gigabytes of the stuff stashed somewhere.

I think you'd be amazed at what you just can't get, or which would not even be listed anywhere so that you would know of its existence.

That's a very narrow definition of education. If all I learned was what's in the curriculum, then maybe, but being around peers at the same level, being able to make mistakes (in the broad sense of the word) in a safe environment, getting to learn how people work... It's going to be quite a bumpy ride before we'll be able to properly replicate that online.

The best teachers are absolutely not on the internet. How do you even make that claim?

This is a typical 'technology is going to save the world' rant. No, it isn't. Technology is not a solution to short-sightedness that humans possess.

Education is not in trouble - the economic model that makes it difficult to go study, learn and get to apply that knowledge and those skills to solving real problems is.

Go ask engineers how many of them get to engineer anything. Go ask how many people in science get to work on interesting problems or can even get a job in the area they studied.

We have the smartest people ever, with access to the most information and the best technology of all time, to make incredible things. It's just hard to get to do those things - when the economy is in this frenzy of quarterly profits.

The decision-makers are 'buy for a dollar, sell for two'. Their worldview is incompatible with education, because you don't need education to make profit, you need someone to exploit to make profit. That's the world we've always lived in by the way, this is not new.

The traders sometimes believe some specific technology, would make them incredible profits, so they become interested in education for a minute, and then get busy with everyday business as usual. This is why science has become toxic via the grant system - 'promise a miracle to get money for research.'

I don't see a world where tradesmen relinquish their powerhold - creative people are always going to either be starving artists, with dignity, or shameless shills. Since the idea of starvation only appeals to a few, we have 'desire to learn is scarce.' It's against human nature to choose starvation you know :)

> The best teachers are absolutely not on the internet. How do you even make that claim?

Personally, I have no idea where the best teachers are, but you don't make any attempt to back up your claim.

> This is a typical 'technology is going to save the world' rant. No, it isn't. Technology is not a solution to short-sightedness that humans possess.

First of all, the issue is never whether X will completely solve a problem. It's whether it can help, and how much it can help.

If you think about the last 500 years, there is no question that technology has helped make people, on the whole, less short sighted. The improvements it's helped enable in education, in our knowledge of the world, in the dissemination of knowledge. They have made us more aware of others, of consequences, and so forth.

Regarding teachers - it's up to the person making extraordinary claims to provide extraordinary evidence [0]. Even at a glance however - how many grade 1-5 teachers are on the internet at all, let alone best. It's pure statistics to know the claim is highly unlikely.

Thinking the best educators are on the internet is a lot like Americans who believe their country is the best country - it's an extreme form of short-sightedness. See how that fits so nicely into the rest of my post?

Regarding people becoming less short-sighted - I'd say next to nothing has changed. From the point of view of your life now versus 500 years ago, it's great. From the point of view of this planet and it's people as a whole - how many people did we kill among ourselves again in the last 100 years alone?

Didn't we nearly blow up the planet less than 50 years ago? We're far more monkey-brained than people who are smart and only associate with at least somewhat smart people like to believe.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

> Regarding teachers - it's up to the person making extraordinary claims to provide extraordinary evidence

You should be telling yourself this, not me.

The other person claimed all the good teachers were online. Yes, we should ask for evidence for this. But did your original comment do that? It didn't.

Instead it made a claim that the good teachers are not on the internet. This is also making a spefific, very broad claim, which we should also ask for evidence for. Which is what I did.

It seems you're under the mistaken impression that the "neutral" stance, that doesn't require evidence is a claim like the one you made, that (if the original person's claim was X) "not X" is true. But the only stance that doesn't require evidence backing it up is the agnostic one of "I don't know where the best teachers are these days".

- The world' a hexagon

- What? No it isn't

- You haven't provided me evidence that it's not, so you can't...

- Um, ok, you're an idiot

That's the world I live in. I don't know about you.

Sorry if this isn't super constructive, but I read your comment twice and don't have the foggiest idea of what you're trying to say. It feels like you're just being contrarian and ranting against, sort of everything?

It's about solutionism, mostly.

"Let's move away from traditional models (which work well most of the time) and digitalise it all! Change the world for the better, oh and make "some" money on the way."

It's a bit cynical but there's some truth in it. This is the mistake that a lot of startups made in the last edtech 'revolution' - hopefully with YC releasing this edtech list, it means that we've become more educated about the education field, to come up with better tech solutions.

I totally second this. I studied Industrial Engineering in the University (in one of the toughtest universities in Europe). However I didn't go to class most of the times, only to some mandatory ones. What I did instead was:

- Watch youtube lectures/tutorials of the hardest topics. These would be mostly from Latin-American universities or from Indian Universities. Study on my own and pass these subjects.

- Learn programming on my own. This has had huge benefits and that's what I do now for a living (and for fun).

- Create https://makersupv.com/ with a bunch of other high-drive students. We learned and taught so many things.

- Work and go as a Exchange Student to Tokyo University.

It took me a bit longer to finish. I almosy dropped out at some point since it felt a bit pointless but there are advantages of having a degree (applying for a visa for instance).

However, many of my classmates were studying the same degree because it is the one with high chance of getting a job afterwards. I would see them suffer everyday learning things they didn't care about just not to starve to death afterwards in Spain.

From these experiences, I would say that the desire to learn is quite high, however perverse incentives are easily mixed together, which also push people who want to learn away.

He is absolutely right and you can already see the tides shifting with the meteoric rise of "coding boot camps" and similar alternative educational models.

The coding boot camps are closing en masse. I can't speak for the other alternative educational models, but there has been quite a bit of discussion around the boot camps closing.

Here is a recent article:


Nah, two of the 100 closed, the industry is fine. One is going to start up again in the same place with the same people and a different name. The other was purchased by Kaplan, which is as close as you can get to a death knell. Most are making grundles of money.

We’re not really a code bootcamp but we get thousands of applications per month and have employers incredibly hungry for our grads.

They are two of the major ones with multiple facilities. That doesn't bode well for the industry.

Also, kudos on grundles. That is my new favorite word.

Make sure you know the definition before you start using it casually as he has!

> Noun. grundle (plural grundles) (US, slang) The area between anus and scrotum in a male or between anus and vulva in a woman. [0]

[0]: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/grundle

Oh, I'm going to use it for everything - except what it really means.

"I will take the 8 oz steak, smashed potatoes with gravy, cauliflower with cheese, a side salad with house Italian dressing, and can you please make it grundle?"

"Thanks for stopping by. When you get home, tell your grundle I said was thinking about them."

I realize this isn't good HN material, but I couldn't resist.

Intersting. In NZ and Australia, "grundies" is slang for (usually male) underwear.

Different etymology though. Grundies <- Reg Grundy's <- Undies <- Underpants.

Never even heard of Iron Yard, being funded by Apollo (U of Pohoenix) makes me think it was nothing but a cash grab, likely same as the reviews of Berkeley Extension school’s bootcamp.

This is a business where poor level of service sinks a company fast. Reviews get online from the first few cohorts, if they’re bad the high caliber students who do their research will opt out of applying. These are the students likely to get jobs from career fair which the bootcamp makes their recruitment fee.

Iron Yard was successful in one rural area, and decided to simultaneously open up 16 new spaces at once. Turns out that's like building 16 separate companies simultaneously.

Lots of bootcamps with multiple facilities do very well, but that makes costs high, so if you make a few missteps it's game over.

Most are clearing millions in profit.

Didn't know. I see them advertising like crazy on my facebook feed lol

Coding bootcamps serve a very niche, often already well off (relative to the other 6 billion people) people.

The basics of education are not being delivered well enough to empower the other 9 out of every 10 children who don't even have access to the basics.

I co-founded Dev Bootcamp and disagree with most of his tweetstorm, for what that’s worth.

It seems to me that education needs its own "industrial revolution." Education with 30 kids and a teacher in a classroom for 9 months doesn't seem to scale well. There aren't enough good teachers, and it's inefficient to have so many kids together learning the same thing, and the same time, at the same pace. It's too inefficient, and any improvements are going to be cost prohibitive.

I think we need to separate instruction, student work, and assessment. Students should be able to receive instruction in multiple ways (1on1, group, watch videos), do their work with something like TAs, and be assessed at their own pace.

Japan is starting to see to super-star teachers that parent pay for. Why do we always need a teacher to provide direct instruction in the classroom? Why can't we reward the best instructors, like Kahn, by having kids be instructed that way? The reason is because instruction, work, and assessment are not separated now.

I wish there were more experimentation in education, but since everything is a big ball of wax paid for with property taxes, there's a lot of reluctance for anyone to experiment with their kid, and since it's all or nothing, there just are minor experiments in the classroom

We need tech to find a way to scale the classroom and deliver it cheaply to students, and I think we need a separation of concerns in order for that to happen.

Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy thinks we should flip the classroom [1]. Students watch high quality lectures at home given by the best instructors on the topic, then do "homework" in class, with the teacher being there for assistance.

Sounds like a worthy approach to me. The problem is, how can you get a school board to adopt something like this? Who leads the effort? How can you implement changes to such an entrenched system?

[1]: https://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_rei...

This is how my math classes in the early 2000s worked.

We show up to class. Teacher talked for maybe 5 minutes. Then we would sit down in groups of 4 and work on exercises. These exercises were very socratic method. Ex:

- Measure some right triangles

- calculate the squares of the lengths of the sides

- Do you notice anything?

- Here's some non-right triangles, does your hypothesis still stand?

Then some application of the introduced concepts.

Kids would help each other within the group, and a teacher would come in to help facilitate this.

This was all the math classes for about 3 years, and was great at helping kids learn to do math, explain solutions to others, and build basic social skills.

I've had a couple programming workshops like this as well, and they're invariably successful. Even the worst people can find help from either the teachers/coordinators or people who aren't having difficulties.

There's a lot of buzzwords like classroom flipping floating around in education.

Part of the issue is the subject matter experts (teachers and instructors) are not up to speed on the capabilities of technology, some even fear being replaced, when the real goal is having the same teachers reach more students more effectively.

Education budgets rarely increase.

I see a gap for educating teachers about the potential of edtech :) Many will welcome the opportunity to focus class time on quality interaction.

> Many will welcome the opportunity to focus class time on quality interaction.

No they won't. Some may value that opportunity, but I wouldn't say "many". I've seen the word "scale" tossed around in the comments. I'll add two more: economics and politics. Until we as a voting people elect leaders who value education, we will continue to see stagnant or falling education budgets.

EdTech will remove some teaching jobs. As a principal, if I can rely on the Internet educators to do a significant portion of the instruction, I don't necessarily need the best teachers in every classroom. In some class rooms I can simply use the bachelors-bearing teacher rather than the masters-bearing teacher. Some teachers recognize this, which is why they are anti-tech. They see how technology helped their community members in manufacturing and other industries, and want to avoid it.

> Some teachers recognize this, which is why they are anti-tech.

And that is exactly why educators need education about edtech.

Edtech exists in many forms. The YC list will give you a snapshot of that. Most of it are actually supportive rather than replacing the teaching role itself. You cannot compare to other industries like manufacturing because they are vastly different.

IMO it's a bit unhealthy for educators to be technophobic. The current students are from the tech generation, and most likely appreciate if their teachers could show more digital fluency. And yes, there are so many good and bad edtech tools out there, but the point is they can be pick-n-mixed to make their jobs easier.

> In some class rooms I can simply use the bachelors-bearing teacher rather than the masters-bearing teacher.

All the good teachers I know are not defined by their qualification, rather the passion, idealism and talent that they give. I had a high school physics teacher with a doctorate and he was not too great at explaining concepts. I also have a maths teacher friend with 3rd class honours in her degree, but is currently one of the most popular teachers in her school.

Other than Montessori's, most teachers are actually not that adverse to tech. But I think a basic digital training is needed. At the very least, learn how to find resources and pull them together. Learn how to use basic software, like rudimentary game-makers. Learn how flipped classrooms work, to design better homeworks and classroom sessions. Learn how peer-learning works, to encourage sharing ideas and working as teams.

There's so many ideas to make learning more exciting, with more meaningful interactions. Edtech is not a major threat, it can be a sort of freedom.

Edit language.

Before audio recording was invented, each town had it's own musicians and musicians generally didn't make much money. Same thing for other performing arts. And if you wanted to hear some music, you had to go to the musical hall. To see a performance, you had to go to the theatre. A lot of people didn't go because of the inconvenience in timing, distance, or cost. And the best performers likely weren't know beyond their town. Their reach was limited.

Once LP records and movies came out then these performance were more accessible to more people. And some performers became superstars. Not everyone would be superstars but a huge industry was born that really didn't exist before.

It seems to me we may be on the cusp of something similar with education. I don't think we've figured out how to do it yet, but at some point there will be easy access to quality education, just like now there's easy access to quality entertainment. I think the revolution will be in the replication and distribution at low cost, not in a change of educational methodology or in-classroom technology.

> own "industrial revolution / doesn't seem to scale well / it's inefficient / improvements are [..] cost prohibitive / that parent pay for / can't we reward the best / We need tech / scale the classroom / deliver it cheaply / separation of concerns

I'm not disagreeing that it's a good idea to always look for ways to improve schools. But i'd like to point out that you're framing these issues in almost exclusively economic terms.

I fear a future where we've reduced schools to one or two easy-to-measure metrics. In fact that's almost exactly what No Child Left Behind's obsession with standardised testing has already done: measuring each teachers' and schools' individual performance and incentivising "high performers". Those tests are even standardised across regions, or even nation-wide, just as you're asking for.

I also don't think the problems you point are real, or new, or relevant: yes, a good teacher doesn't usually "scale". But why does everything have to scale? Good teachers create a connection to their students that usually cannot be carried over TCP/IP, and i have never seen technology used in schools that came close to the effect of an outstanding teacher.

The only realistic path to "scaling" their skills is by understanding the factors that allowed them to become role models inspiring their students, and trying to replicate them.

Yes I used those terms intentionally because I think the current problem with education is being able to scale good teaching. There are good teachers, but we don't have a good way to scale them. The industrial revolution provided a way to replicate and scale good manufacturing. So maybe we can learn from that. I don't mean that education should be done like manufacturing, just that the lessons of how to scale may apply.

Scaling teachers is often called team-teaching and coaching, i.e. training more teachers to be more effective. Effective teacher-teacher relationships are a good predictor for effective teacher-student relationships. Broadcast one-to-many relationships aren’t effective for bidirectional factors crucial to education such as feedback or empathy (this is where people are different to mass production or say entertainment).

> I think the current problem with education is being able to scale good teaching.

Well, I don't think that's the only problem with education.

Scaling good teaching, huh. Tackling this with direct technology is difficult, things like message boards for teachers are a bit crude.

So perhaps another way of approaching it is better training and support for teachers - and this is where tech can be used as support. Example, shadow a well-respected teacher with a camera, and post regularly on YouTube while encouraging open discussion.

Actually there is a lot of this content already (check out "Blended Learning" on Coursera, for example) so perhaps the real problem is actually aggregation and distribution.

We're currently introducing "self paced studies" classes in our school (age group 14+), where the students get instructions (digitally, videos, slides, ...) and worksheets and the teacher helps them only when/where necessary.

It requires a lot more self organisation on the students side (that might be seen positive or negative) and overall the student success is similar to "classic" classes (but we've just started the second year, so we hope that get's better with experience - on the students and the teachers side).

The downside is that the preparation of the learning materials is much more work for the teacher than for a classic lecture in front of the class (but that also might get better with the years ...)

It's kinda crazy that assessment has been coupled with instruction for so long, it pretty obviously creates a warped incentive model that stands on some real shaky ground.

I think the model also doesn't scale well for assessment, which prompts the creation of few, ineffective, but highly scalable assessments upon which the functioning of the entire system rest, which in turn prompts practices like teaching to the test. This creates even more messed up incentives but this time facing students and teachers as opposed to institutional practices.

I think that assessment, when decoupled, can't be done with an institution or institutions. Instead we need social networks that use a consensus process to define knowledge and who has it.

Agreed. I think about the analogy of interchangeable parts and if that might apply to education. Maybe teachers should just teach and assessors should assess. Interchangeable parts made it so equipment could be more efficiently be manufactured. But that didn't preclude there being a lot of different types of equipment. In fact, there's probably more types of equipment because of interchangeable parts. So for education, having an assessor focus on assessments, independent and separate from instruction, might make it so that there could be easier to assess and more types of assessment, so the teacher doesn't have to always do it. And that might help compare results across teachers.

College Board owns SAT, AP, and (essentially) Common Core so there's been a trend to tighter coupling. I like the idea of an AP Test that anyone can and be assessed separate from the teacher. Same for SAT. I think we need more of that model, not less.

I don't see the advantage of tying assessments to singular institutions especially ones structured like College Board. What this promotes a bottleneck of what can be communicated to others meaningfully. Currently the SAT can be broadly communicated (because CB and others have invested very large amounts of resources into it) and so students optimize for it. Instead they could be putting their efforts to towards learning that is more personally and socially valuable.

I don't think this is just because the SATs are bad tests but fundamentally emerges from the institutional single source of truth model, where the incentive is for the institution to make their test as general/broad as possible and the most broadly accepted , as to capture the most students and hence fees.

I agree that we need more and better assessment - but I don't understand why we would allow a private body to do what should be a utility function of our educational system. Currently, the College Board is able to fill this niche (at great cost) due to a lack of trust in the assessments of individual instructors. Rather than further increasing the cost of assessment by expanding the use of private arbiters, we should seek to make the assessments that are already taking place (in far greater number and scope) more reliable and trustworthy.

I believe this would take the form of a dedicated assessment tool that allows teachers to create individualized assessments JIT based on - or in concert with - their planning and performance workflow. If I'm teaching a structured lesson on polynomials, I should be able to create a valid assessment simply be requesting that one is made. My students should be able to take that assessment on the spot and the results should be immediately available.

I will take assessments with 80% confidence of validity 10x/week over assessments with 100% validity once per year every. single. time.

There's more to be said here - but that's the gist.

Why not have multiple assessors? Let people/parents/whoever pick who they want. Some schools use ACT and others SAT. Having a single assessor seems suboptimal. Alternatives tend to keep things more in check.

I like the concept of community-driven recognition, but I would caution against separating assessment from learning (if you used "instruction" to mean the moment when learning happens). Communities that engage in collaborative work (like open source projects, or guilds) are very good at surfacing and recognizing expertise. Making assessment a separate process increases the risk that we measure the things we can count, rather than the things that really count (butchering the Einstein quote).

I definitely see where you're coming from, but I think the danger there is not necessarily anything to do with the coupling of assessment and learning but the coupling of assessment with the learned, i.e those who possess a skill/piece of knowledge/trait should be the ones who define the assessments around it. I like that you bring up guilds because that's very much baked into their process I think.

Assessing Competency and Outcomes is one thing when done in a learning environment and quite another in the real world.

If students need to be prepared for the real world, this will need to increasingly become reflected in the amount of time spent in real-world learning vs in-classroom.

The question becomes - how will real world learning get to the classroom to reach the student, and how can the classroom meaningfully be with the student when they are with the real-world?

Interesting that you mentioned superstar tutors. Their classes tend to be large too, I've been to one that's close to a hundred pupils. A noticeable difference is that their sessions tend to be a lot more entertaining and emphasise on "tips and tricks" - not sure if school classrooms should follow the latter trend though.

It does show that it's possible to teach a large class effectively. Teaching talent makes all the difference, with technology to support it.

PLEASE have someone with an education background on your team. (Preferably classroom experience.) Don't assume what teachers want and need. Don't just survey teachers. Get them on your team and have them help steer your product development.

I worked in a school's IT department a few years ago and the way the approach to tech worked was downright frustrating. It basically culminated in teachers request XYZ and us providing it. No one, not even our director, took the time to find out what the actual needs were for teachers. All they did was throw money and technology at the teachers and said "here, use it".

I get really uncomfortable when people without any experience inside of a school try to solve problems by just throwing technology at it. There is so much more to a classroom then just having a tablet or chromebook and wifi. The biggest hurdle is always going to be our curriculum set up and how incredibly inflexible it can be in schools; not to mention how many of them are downright jokes when it comes to K-12 tech education.


Going to go an extra further here and say no solution for education with tech is valuable unless you can provide a way to make the administration, teachers and parents understand the value in. This means not only making it known why they should try your new startup, but also providing some top notch on-boarding and training. Far too many companies come in and make a product look like gold, but then bail when the time comes to get some continued training on something.

Also understand that a lot of schools have very constrained budgets. It's simply not easy to justifying projects in the XX-XXX thousands range of a budget. So if you're doing this also be sure to figure out some steps on how to work with the school to find ways of justifying the finance, or perhaps grants from the state, to implement this.

Be mindful of state curriculum guidelines as well. Every state has their own guidelines for the different subject areas of education. There are bulleted items that schools must hit to meet them so you need to consider this. You simply cannot come in and say "here's some VR headset to use for history". Work with teachers and administration to have boilerplate lesson plans to meet the criteria of the curriculum. They've been doing things for years and are already busy. The last thing they'll have time for is sitting down to re-write lesson plans to fit a piece of technology in. Some will be eager to do it, but a higher percentage will probably be resistant.

These are all issues and observations I saw when I was getting my education degree and then working in schools for 5+ years. Things have changed a bunch since I left (2011) but I'm sure a lot of these headaches still remain in various ways. There is so much to what makes a classroom work and work well that isn't just in the tool. Teachers, administration and parents have to buy in 100%.

Upvote for you, the teacher/school buy-in is the one factor that decides whether your edtech make or break.

There's a general reluctance to switch to another way of doing things, even if it's proven to be great, unless the cost-benefit is exponentially way better. Then there's another hurdle to overcome - re-training teachers, producing new classroom materials, changing lesson plans etc.

Perhaps it's no accident that the most popular edtech that we hear right now is Clever. (Or maybe that's just because we're on HN, haha)

If you closely followed this advice, I don't think Kahn academy would have been invented. What teachers want and what students needs are not the same.

Salman Khan started Khan Academy after extensive hours spent tutoring family members & friends, IIRC. That's not quite classroom experience, but it's also much more than some random fresh out of college grad starting an education startup just because YC said they were interested in them.

Perhaps, but KA is a supplement - not a replacement for - more traditional in-person educational experiences.

KA lecture videos were much more in-depth and much more useful than any high school math lesson I ever received.

I mean, Khan is obviously a top teacher, if he wasn't, he'd get replaced by Johnie Academy or whatever pretty quickly. You can't really staff every high school with top teachers, especially if they earn below average wage (that's the case where I live).

It's also a feature of the whole digital format. The lecture can be bugfixed until there are no mistakes left. And have you ever tried telling your high school teacher to rewind 3 minutes and speak 2x times as quickly?

Big whoop. KA is still education. This thread is about education startups, not necessarily in-person education startups.

This is the most important comment in the thread. As a teacher, I've been pitched/required to use too many tools that were obvious designed by someone with little to no knowledge of what I actually do on the day-to-day.

It will save you major headaches.

What subject/age-group do you teach? What's been the most useful bit of technology you've used in your job?

Lack of domain knowledge is a great way to kill any new company. It's a variation of the 'build it and they will come' mentality, as if you can accurately figure out what to build in the first place without relevant experience.

At least based on our IK12/YC experience, it was pretty rare to run into EdTech teams with no classroom experience on their founding team.

These all seem to be assuming the institution-teacher-student model of education we have today. Even the "New school models" section is assuming a delivered experience, which has an institutional bent.

I think biggest area of disruption in education would be in building fundamentally new architectures for educational systems, based on networks and social communities instead of funnels and institutions. The latter have a pretty huge list of undesirable properties and negative externalities, especially in how they limit diverse experiences and learning.

An eye-opening read on this front for me has been Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich [0]. It's insane how much of what he wrote 40 years ago still holds true.

[0] http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1970_deschooling.html

The institution-teacher-student model, or the top-down approach, is based on two things: 1) a specific, predetermined set of knowledge each learner must know at each level and 2) tying those requirements with specific ages. This results in one of two problems for the individual learner. Either they are mastering the content faster than their peers, or they need more time than the specifications allow. And, at least here in the US, there isn't much room for the learner to choose their own path. I know I often was frustrated in the classroom as a kid, either repeating information I already had down or jumping ahead without mastering the fundamentals first.

Much of this stems from economic concerns with education. We simply can't afford to have one teacher per student all day long at a systematic level. We know from years of research that 1-on-1 tutoring is almost always going to be the most effective model (combined with some social and problem-based learning).

We live in an exciting time. Technology can help remove some of the economic barriers to individualizing learning. I've been thinking about this problem for several years. If anyone's interested to see what I've come up with... I don't have all the answers, but (shameless plug) https://sagefy.org

The article in the parent looks pretty great! I've scanned it but I've got it down in my TODO list to read through. Always interested in hearing about different thoughts about the problem.

The way to achieve your goals would be through lobbying your local school district, state education agency, and state legislature (if your American). A startup has limited power and no legal authority to change the public education system.

In addition, the VC model isn't particularly well suited for this.

How many generations will it take for parents to accept en masse a radically redesigned approach to schooling? A big part of schooling is babysitting + credentialing, you can't disrupt that over a few years with so much of society relying on those functions.

I don't think this needs to be directly tied to public education. My concern is more that educational startups tend to assume an institutional model (i.e an institutions defines what is being learned, how it's being learned etc etc). They don't need to change public education but rather create services that embody a different educational paradigm.

For example a matchmaking service for shared learning goals or interests could for sure be within the power of a startup. Something like 42[0] but without a fixed institution. Or community level organized learning environments for various subjects. Or even to go more in the vien of Papert and Turtle, a npm type system but with a strict pedagogical focus.

There's a ton of systems that can be hugely powerful without depending on a classroom model or a school/institution. And there's no reason these can't be as impactful or more as systems and services targeted towards public/institutional education.

[0] https://www.42.us.org/

I am sympathetic, but an obvious hurdle is that our employment system is largely biased toward that traditional pipeline. High school GPA/ACT Scores > Various Tiers of High Education > Standardized Credentials for Employment.

I'm not sure how you would resolve the two (without, of course, cracking the nut on a neutral, true-ability assessment system).

I think the latter is possible, but even without there are options.

There's a long-tail of credential consumers beyond traditional employers that holds a ton of value. Community level organizations, digital social networks, even open-source communities.

There's also a decent set of skills that can't currently be measured or conveyed by traditional standardized credentials.

Both of these represent an opportunity for a new academic/assessment paradigm to step in and create real value today.

That being said there's definitely going to be huge hurdles in getting to traditional employers, their logic is not necessarily based on best placement or best skill set, but often times on bureaucracy/ass-covering/good-enough mindset. Not to say that isn't valuable at very large scale organizations.

Or just collect enough money to send your kids to an alternative school - be it a web, spiral, or funnel one.

Enjoying reading your posts in this article.

Institutions are definitely worried about their relevance and scared that they are going to be cut out.

The majority of students today anyways, are not self-directed and self-guided learners.

Instructors in my mind remain essential. How much non-essential stuff instructors teach may change.

I have experienced building and delivering high school curriculum for diploma credit online, and notice something quite different from post-secondaries.

Post-secondary institution seem, at times to act like their gig is up of making students take courses they don't really need. I'm grossly oversimplifying the underlying issues that lead to this.

Instructors who care about providing a better learning experience than a PDF loaded into Moodle destined to add little to no value are my heroes today. If our games and apps are better than the digital learning experiences, the producers of digital education (institutions) are in for a rude awakening.

I always suggest the Learning Web chapter of Deschooling Society to anyone interested in ideas for technology enabled learning ventures. It's brilliant. It also helps to skip some of the more political chapters as they are likely to turn people off from his compelling vision for learning societies.

Edit: spelling

Had forgotten about this - thanks for sharing it!

Tutoring could be a way to break this model - if suitably equipped tutors can boost the existing systems of student performance beyond what the education system can do with it's resources, some good questions would arise.

The article makes reference to breaking.

Very little has changed in online education in the past 20 years. I feel it's a lot of BS, videos get prettier, devices get a little more powerful, but it's the same stuff being hawked in the mid 90's.

I would love feedback on my project BlockSchool from anyone who is interested in ed-tech!

BlockSchool is an online coding school for kids ages 6 to 13. We hire teachers from top colleges and companies like Stanford and Facebook, and connect them with students who don't have easy access to high-quality instruction.

Our classes are conducted via video chat in a fun 3D block-based world where everything can be controlled by writing Puzzle code (our visual programming language), JavaScript, and Python. It's collaborative, social, and kids love the creative freedom we give them.

We are focused on 1:1 and 1:2 instruction now which isn't 'scalable' but later on, we plan on offering a help service for kids only when they get stuck or need a new concept explained. This will lower the cost for students substantially. We hope to follow in the footsteps of VIPkid on this front.

We are based in Seoul/SF, so we have a number of students in China, Japan, and Korea already, but a majority of our customers are in the US.

If anyone is interested in offering feedback, here is our website: https://block.school

We'll be applying to YC too! Hopefully our project is relevant to what they're looking for. We're also growing quite fast :)

I am running a startup that is a market place, http://greensprout.co for afterschool programs and summer camp providers (limited to Bay area). Naturally I am interested in this space. As a Korean, it is great to see startups working from Korea. The coding school is getting popular. So, it is a good place to start. But, there are many varieties. This seems to me like a tutoring service for computer programming. As you said it is video chat, is there youtube video to introduce the service? That will be helpful.

I have one kid, who is at your target. But I am not sure if I need tutoring like for block programming. I am more interested in real programming. Also, it is not clear what you will achieve at the end.

But, keep doing the good work since you have traction and I guess that people like the teaching quality, which you need to keep it consistent.

How old is your child? Has he/she done programming before? We strongly believe any beginner should start with visual programming first. Happy to share all the reasons with you if you're interested.

Here's a short clip of a class (it's also on our website): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4xaiZrbD_Y

Hey Tony - I've been planning on reaching out to you. I've run Breakout Mentors (https://breakoutmentors.com/) for almost 7 years now (mostly Bay Area, some online) so one of the longest for the hot kid coding space. Plus started the CoderDojo Silicon Valley chapter (http://www.coderdojosv.org/) and ran the tech side of things for a few years. Hit me up at brian@breakoutmentors.com

I run an after school coding program for kids in the bay area. Happy to talk if you would like. Info is in my profile.

Something I don't see on the list:

Homeschooling related startups

Big companies can be a unique resource for small, independent operations. In k-12 education, some of the smallest and most independent are homeschooling families.

They need to comply with state laws. They sometimes need to accommodate 2xe students. They need to prove their children actually received an education.

There are no doubt other areas where they could use help. This is often done currently via free websites, free email lists, etc. There is a homeschoolers legal aid group or something. I was a member when I was homeschooling. So, there are some supports already, but it tends to be pretty sparse and a lot is local, homegrown.

Homeschooling is the right entry point for disruptive change. The new home schooling community (as opposed to the traditional religion focused home schoolers) is large and growing and much more open to new ideas than the education system.

I was a secular homeschooler, so I forget that this distinction even needs to be made. Thank you for bringing it up.

One subset of the homeschooling community is gifted kids who don't fit in well at school. They frequently have either a very high IQ, above what gifted programs are geared to, or are 2xE or both. Their parents are often well educated and comfortably middle class. The needs of this populatuon would likely be a good point of entry.

Oh hey! We're one of the companies on this list :)

We went through IK12 (now a part of YC, same people) and it was the single best decision we ever made for Kodable. Education companies have some pretty unique problems, and it is almost guaranteed that the partners will have seen it before, know how to handle it, or at least be able to connect you with someone that has. At this point I think that YC/IK12 companies have a presence in pretty much every school in the USA and most countries around the world, so the network of edtech startups you get access to is just incredible.

Edtech startups can be really hard, but this is one of the few things you can do that will actually make it just a little bit easier. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out - Jon at Kodable dot com

May I point out - to YC and others interested in the space - their is a fairly large market for continuing education. Nurses, accountants, lawyers, and lots of other industries require practitioners keep up to date and take courses throughout their professional career. Perhaps their are not enough students to warrant a massive big name startup, but there are definitely enough students for a reasonable sized businesses.

In fact, there is a huge cottage industry of exactly this in at least the software engineering world. Several companies with enough revenue to make any seed-stage startup sneeze.

Making tens of thousands of dollars for a 2 day workshop/corporatetraining is not unheard of. No millions of dollars from VCs required.

> For instance, we believe there’s potential for a company to build a service that meaningfully connects schools and parents, and to charge parents for the service.

I disagree. I already pay taxes, book fees, technology fees, extracurricular fees to my school district. I would not pay another cent for anything I didn't have to pay.

A big problem in K-12 education today is actually over-involvement of parents. Helicoptering, or whatever you want to call it. Sure a teacher wants parent support -- but from home. They do not want to, do not have time for, and should not be dealing with 20 parent interactions a day, technology-assisted or not.

The bigger problem is that it would make it much harder for poor parents to keep up with the richer ones because they could not afford the service.

This problem has a solution (albeit an imperfect one), which is charging wealthier schools more in order to charge more poor schools less. Obviously that model has drawbacks, but it may work better with a tech product than other areas, where marginal cost is relatively small.

We already have that, it's called Title I: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elementary_and_Secondary_Educa...

I work in an education company. As ironic as it sounds, we've found the biggest factor that is stoping change in K12 education is that teachers systematically refuse to learn anything new.

It's not in the US though so YMMV.

If I didn't have five kids, one in college, and monthly financial minimums that preclude taking time off from regular work, I'd jump at applying for YC. I even _had_ a great ed-tech startup... 5 years ago ...

Textfyre Final Presentation, 2012 http://plover.net/~dave/textfyre/Textfyre%20Investor%20Prese... (The slide with the team has been removed...no need to share that info)

We were in talks for a couple of months with Gates Foundation, but our timing was off. They had just pivoted away from helping startups to giving millions of dollars to big education publishers like Pearson.

I gave up after realizing that I'd vastly under-estimated the networking (and cash) requirements in even proving the plan. Education is a really hard business to crack and we were targeting textbooks.

Fast-forward a couple of years, maybe 2014-15, and I'm listening to a gal from Pearson being interviewed on NPR. She's essentially spouting many of Textfyre's ideas (embedded testing, interactive content, variable reading levels).

I laughed and cried at the same time.

The funny part is, not a single person ever told me the plan was bad. They just told me the education business sucks and it would cost a lot of money. But bar-none, everyone _loved_ the plan. And this goes through to today. I chat about this plan once in awhile with someone that's peripherally interested in ed-tech and they all say, "Why aren't you still working on THAT!"

I'd love to. Write me a check.

> For instance, we believe there’s potential for a company to build a service that meaningfully connects schools and parents, and to charge parents for the service.

I'm sure that will play well with parents that are already straining under the load. This sort of thing is so rife with bias that it is very hard to step away from your privileged position for the 30 seconds that it takes to vet the idea that you have to wonder why this cycle repeats over and over again.

Any kind of parental contribution to the school system outside of taxes will end up as a way to differentiate between the haves and the have-nots and at best will lead to children from disadvantaged environments not being able to take part in fun stuff, at worst it will disadvantage them even further.

This kind of thinking seems to be present in more than one YC project, the misguided attempt at their version of 'basic income' which fails to take even the most basic precautions against doing damage rather than improving things is another.

I don't know if this exists, but I think something like a "GitHub for textbooks" would be valuable. Let people (teachers or otherwise) collaborate together on open source textbooks and create a pretty UI for reading those books (like GitBook).

I really hope this isn't driven by a desire to capitalize on the coming wave of school privatization under DeVos. What she and her compatriots have done to Michigan's school system is not only a tragedy for the communities they serve, but also a demonstrable failure:


Tech lipstick on underperforming, segregated, for-profit schools isn't going to make them any prettier.

School has played a socialization role for kids and a role in the community - teachers have often been role models, and education has often extended beyond the subjects taught, to, at its best, teaching deeper life skills.

And then of course there are various troubled or at-risk populations of students where no amount of educational technology will help because they come from broken homes and underserved communities.

This is not to denigrate the idea of Education Startups, but rather, to point out the broader scope of "education".

I used to work as a developer for an online charter school many years back so this space is very familiar. I even thought about starting my own company and breaking into this space because the software I worked on wasn't very good (it was miles above what was already out there, for sure, but I thought there were many places that could be improved).

The problem I ran into, which completely discouraged me at the time, was that of making money. You need a significant amount of capital to sell to a private school and a public school requires sales cycles of at least a couple of years. It just wasn't possible with me already having a family, mortgage, etc.

I would love to see the whole thing get disrupted. I even think about doing something in it from time to time. Having YC behind you would certainly be a big help. One big issue you face is that you're going to be teaching children and helping to shape their minds so you must use valid scientific research to back up your ideas less we create a generation of adults who cannot think about the world. This is the biggest hurdle, IMO, because it's so easy to just appeal to someone's bias narrative. For example "brain games" which "train" your brain basically only train it to play those games but they're still hugely popular and sometimes marketed to the same demographics.

> One big issue you face is that you're going to be teaching children and helping to shape their minds so you must use valid scientific research to back up your ideas less we create a generation of adults who cannot think about the world.

Don't let the barely adequate be the enemy of the actively harmful. Most education research is of low quality and education does not incorporate known effective techniques like mastery learning or spaced repetition.

Education degrees and education research deserve all the respect they get.

Honestly, fixing the education of educators would be the best long term solution.

Alternatively, creating a complete, ready-to-go curriculum package for every course (as defined in every state) that could be handed to anyone might be a startup-able solution to that problem.

Although, that might also just be a patch that leads to a local maximum of not-very-good teachers teaching from better-than-before curriculum. Where making better teachers would lead to better teaching (eventually).

I believe there is opportunity in giving teachers better tools to teach as well as they are capable.

Teaching is difficult enough from a personal performance and logistical standpoint that there is low hanging fruit in simply helping teachers be their best professional self.

For example: I have approx. 200 high school level students. If I assign them to write one page I have just given myself 200 pages of assessment to complete. Assessing writing is more cognitively demanding than simply reading 200 pages, so if I can read and provide feedback on each page in 3 minutes - working non-stop - I have 10 hours of work. I have 5 hours of prep time per week which is primarily used for preparing the 7 hours a day I spend actively in class with students. Given that we don't complete just one assignment per week - you can see the logistical difficulty.

I teach english. There are commenting/notemaking tools in almost every online word processing toolset, but none of them are streamlined for assessing writing (i.e. providing rubric based feedback, rapidly annotating with custom or pre-created notes, allowing for layered annotations to identify different structural features of writing). There's opportunity in figuring out what teachers already do and slash the time required to do it.

I completely understand. I teach AP Computer Science to about 100 students a year and I assign many Open Response questions which are solved by writing code by hand on paper. I grade these using the same rubric as the College Board which takes into account much more than "would it compile". For every hour of homework I assign my students, I assign myself double digit hours of grading.

Some AI + a pool of previously graded assignments could probably automatically pre-grade essays (or my open response questions) with comments and notations which would allow a teacher to skip the 100% correct papers, and focus on the hot-spots of the others. Automatically identifying plagiarism (via the internet and other students) would be a nice side effect, too.

Those kinds of solutions seem way more useful than Yet Another Gradebook/Attendance System or a Teacher->Parent Chat Room or even Distributed Tutoring Systems.

You can already find "a complete, ready-to-go curriculum package for every course" on the internet.

Unfortunately (1) it's fragmented into lots of sites ... but most importantly, (2) it's low quality, and typically not adjusted to your particular year (From year to year the level of students varies a lot, and some need easier or more difficult content). On top of that, some years you have 50h with the students, other years 60h (depending on holidays, breaks, outings, interruptions). So that "package" would need some input parameters to achieve differentiation, acceleration, etc.

I often find it easier to spend 2h creating my content from scratch than adapt somebody else's (This can mean 20h - 30h of preparation in a week when you are teaching something for the first time, on top of teaching, supervising, after-school activities, etc)

A lot of great ideas and important issues on Education startups can be found in this 5-hour long video "Technology In Education: Witnesses testified on technological advances in education." recorded on OCTOBER 12, 1995.


I second this. The panel includes true visionaries like Adam Kay and Seymour Papert. Seymour's comment about kids learning french in France remains one of the most compelling suggestions for the type of technology-supported learning we should be focusing on. The comments above contain many of the reasons why change is hard and slow, but education needs more of these kinds of big ideas rather than incremental improvements of the current system. I also find it useful to distinguish between the process of learning and the system of education.

I would like something that increases parental involvement or at least oversight of their kids. 1:1s and close contact with your manager or team in problem solving is invaluable. What does that mean in the context of a classroom? Is it valuable? Teachers probably have 120 kids at some level so it may not scale.. And I think it's to early or weird to have kids participate in a stand up but an app to help parents understand what kids are working on and how they can help would be interesting. How can you improve the feedback loops. I think kids hit critical periods where they don't understand something and may not have the skills necessary to solve so providing some sort of peer pair (programming?) may help? Maybe start this in AP CS or a high school programming class or something and see if it is effective.

The other idea is work/life balance for kids in school. How do you monitor that and help them? I think kids have more energy but at the same time need downtime etc.. What does that mean in the context of education etc..?

My fiance's children just started in a new school system and they use an app called ClassDojo that is intended to increase involvement between teachers, parents, and the students. At any given time, my fiance can login, see photos of what the kids are doing in class, send/receive messages with the teacher(s), check grades/assignments. Compared to their previous school system, the level of involvement is beyond compare. Her son who is in middle school also uses an app called Remind that has all the assignments and communication between parent/teacher/student on specific assignments.

ClassDojo and Remind are both alumni of ImagineK12/YC Education!

I can't speak from personal experience, but based on my fiance's feedback they are great tools!

Canvas/Schoology/Others provide parents with the opportunity to monitor student assignments and grades.

The problem with parental involvement is (usually) the desire to participate rather than opportunity.

You might also say it contributes to social inequality by prioritising students who have parents who are willing and able to help with homework, which won't be the students from the lowest-income backgrounds.

I know it doesn't fall neatly into any of those categories, but I'd love some feedback on my idea:

I want to create an organization that is essentially a 6 week retreat for students before they begin college. Selecting the best applicants possible, they will go through rigorous training to become their most successful selves, covering Academics, Social life, Health, and Lifestyle topics. Elements of secrecy will help it's applicant pool, I was heavily inspired by the Bohemian Club.

Long term, the alumni network itself will more than make up for the cost, in turn making the applicant pool stronger and stronger.

It's an aggressive plan, and requires years of building up from the ground. But it's my dream to make it happen.

"Selecting the best applicants possible"

I predict stunning success, based on this sentence alone.

That said - I think that providing help for people who are already doing well is nice, but it doesn't really support the real goal of public education: educating (all of) the public.

Unless you're thinking that this will be a great for-profit biz, with the most successfully students+parents most able to pay top dollar for this?

In which case - yeah, you've got a solid idea. It's essentially the same as idea as going to Harvard/Yale/Cornell/etc. If you can get a good round of 'seed families' (students+already successful parents) it just might work.

Sorry I didn't see your comment until now.

Right, it is intended to be a for-profit business, not really interested in tackling better education for everyone.

Long term I think a great case will be made for taking some % of students that couldn't afford it, just based on their accomplishments/skills to date.

Rich parents send their under-14 yr olds to a summer camp (just for fun & MAYBE some sports lessons) and pay 10k+. For a program proven to boost their kids' chance of success, I think they'd be willing to pay even more than that.

I'm making my own learning materials for self-studying Chinese.


VoiceTube is a similar startup company that scaled this up to help people learn English.


I have no idea how to turn my Chinese-learning data into a practical business. I emailed 100 Chinese teachers in universities around Taiwan, but didn't get any replies.

If someone wants to do the business and marketing, I'm happy to give you everything I've done so far.

> https://pingtype.github.io

> I have no idea how to turn my Chinese-learning data into a practical business.

A couple of suggestions:

1) Find someone learning Chinese who's physically near you (so you can be in the same room) but who you don't know personally, e.g. someone at a meetup. Open your site, and give them your laptop and observe what they do. (Don't ask them questions, until they get stuck and ask for help. Just observe.)

2) Try to answer these questions:

- What do you have now (data and/or functionality)?

- To what people could those be useful?

- In which contexts?

- What else would they need in order to get started using this?

3) Try out some other Chinese learning tools (ChinesePod, Popup Chinese, Decipher Chinese, Chairman's Bao, ...) and, for each one, make notes on paper about each thing that happens after you first visit the site (or open the app). That will help you understand onboarding flows.

My email is in my profile if you'd like to discuss in detail. I'm in Beijing, so same time zone as Taiwan.

I work in the IT department at a community college. One of the biggest costs we face is our ERP, Ellucian's Banner. I'm not on that team, but the number of times I've been interrupted by them talking about a problem in Banner is really really high.

AFAIK, the biggest reason there are no real competitors is that Ellucian does a good job packaging the law and regulation related stuff for financial aid. Apparently that's difficult enough that no open source alternative or non-open source company has been able to do better.

I'd love to see someone fix that problem.

Interesting that learning science is not represented in the categories — something along the lines of:

"There's lots of research on ways in which material can be presented that makes it easier for kids to learn. We would encourage companies that have relevant expertise and the ability to bring research-backed technology to market."

Or is there not an interest in something like this?

I work on the policy side of digitalisation. Looking at the things listed in the YC call this all doesn't seem too much line the things that are really needed. Here some major issues that education (thinking here mainly about schools but this covers all sectors. And about developed counties other than the US, which has a strange, immensely commercialised education) faces : - cost (depending on the country education can be 3-8% of GDP), most of which is salary - equity - even in the best of countries kids with the right parents fare much better - changing demographics - massive increases (including migrants but also due to housing cycles etc) in some areas while in some villages a school might end with 6 students, all at different ages. - how to truly personalise learning (without kids being on devices all day or teachers having to insert massive amounts of data) - teacher training in subject matter, technical skills and pedagogies, while time and resources are limited - lack of good teachers (often due to pay...) - relevance of learning content and methods - improving assessment - lack of time for teachers (choose resources, plan lessons, learn new rules /curricula, do a lot of admin,... -measuring impact of new policy /tools /... (issues are scale, the direct cause-effect link, worry about too much /instructive tracking, etc)

I think for none of these there are any good solutions out there short of throwing money at the system, which few places can /want to do. For anything to find actual uptake in education it needs to be timely, cost-effective, easy to train /use, respect very specific laws, and tested /proven in a real setting.

There are huge concerns about issues such as vendor lock-in. And looking at some of the proposals listed, there are things that seem crazy /near-evil, eg the suggestion to give a system free to schools but let parents pay.

This seems like a rather negative post, but I just mean to give a bit of perspective. Education is complex, deeply personal, so emotional, immensely important, shapes and determines society and our common future. There is a massive amount of both idealism and frustration on the part of the people involved (especially teachers) . Most have experienced a dozen broken tech promises and been covered in advertising leaflets of questionable commercial providers.

All that ends with either the same pretty much evil players dominating this complex market (everyone in education hates Pearson but few can avoid using some of their products as they know how to play the system, including the funding models and rules ), or with an increased influx of highly commercial tech players (Google, Microsoft, Apple,) which don't understand/care for the aims of education and just see a massive market and an opportunity to train the next generation of users on their systems.

Maybe you'll have some ideas... :-)

It's not K-12, but some of you may be interested in reading this paper about the online exams service at ETH Zurich (Switzerland).


I wonder if the Ycombinator folks may have recently watched School Inc (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrDfCy5Q9wI)

Please make an alternative computer science DEGREE, YES with a DEGREE (equivalent to brick and mortar) that is affordable and suitable for working adults

A professional football player starts playing at the age of 4-5, a professional dancer starts practicing right from childhood, but I see most people only get interested in code when they need a job and they start fearing. Our education system should introduce problem solving and coding right from primary classes, teachers should be trained exclusively for these, and the big G, F and others should collaborate with government/NGOs to produce better curriculum and teachers.

Disagree. Coding is one of hundreds of skills that can lead to a good career, and coding is absolutely not for everyone.

Football/dance are extra-curriculars, I am all for coding being an option early on (high school?) but not anytime before then. If a kid shows an interest in coding, they'll find a way. And parents nowadays are more aware of it as a viable option

Even if this seems worth it anyway, a teacher "trained" in coding is not a programmer I would trust to teach my kids coding, and hiring CS majors would be monumentally too expensive. At the end of the day it's not practical.

Why not before high school? As someone teaching kids, they grasp the concepts just fine at young ages and if the material is presented in a fun and personalized way, they tend to enjoy it more than other subjects (depending on how those are taught).

Actively exposing your child to coding will greatly increase the likelihood they pursue it later on.

Our pricing is as low as $22.50 per hour with a friend, which I consider pretty affordable compared to many extra curriculars!

There's no issue with having an introduction to computer classes and the fundamentals to some, but the original comment was more in the line of making it a mandatory class. They need exposure, but it shouldn't be forced on them. Fostering an interest is far better than demanding kids sit in a 40 minute class to learn functions.

Also $22.50 may seem cheap, but it is quite expensive especially if a family has 2-3 kids that they'd like to enroll.

I agree on the point that coding is not for everyone. But basic skills like problem-solving could help kids explore more things as well. I correct my point here and assert that like other extra-curricular activities, the impact of problem-solving should also and possibilities of what code can do, could also be taught at primary level. It could at least motivate some kids to pursue it further, so schools could play an important role in finding that motivation/interest. We don't need rockstar coders to teach fundamentals of programming, rather we should teach children how to learn and do basic handholding, and to guide them on the path ahead on either online courses or code camps. Thanks again for your viewpoint it was genuinely helpful and appropriate.

> a teacher "trained" in coding is not a programmer

And if the "trained teacher" is a programmer, what is stopping them from taking a $100,000 programming job over their $40,000 teaching job (That caps out at $70,000 after 20 years)?

I have to disagree entirely here. We shouldn't be forcing kids to learn a singular skill early on, but allowing them to explore all areas of interests.

Thanks for your viewpoint, I strongly believe that it sounds more logical. I was suggesting to learn problem-solving in the beginning and gradually progressing it to coding. Interschool/college code camps may take it from there. Exploring many areas of interest in the beginning years of life definitely has an advantage.

TeachBay (for grade schools) - Parents bid in an auction for seats in a teacher's classroom at the beginning of the school year, instead of having the principal assign students to teachers. This will reward the good teachers, punish the bad ones, and give everyone an incentive to do better.

I did a fair amount of volunteering in my kids' school. There is a huuuuge difference between the effective teachers and the teachers that parents like. The school is a public school that uses a lottery to determine admission because 200-250 kids apply for 100 spots each year. Because of this, parent involvement is considerably higher than an ordinary school. You’d expect that this would be the kind of school that would embrace great teachers.

There are a few terrible teachers at the school but they aren't the ones that the parents complain about. As long as a teacher is nice and most kids get good grades, nobody complains. The most hated teachers are the ones who actually try to get kids to behave better and learn more. This is because most parents look at test scores when choosing a school, but they don’t really care about their kid’s score. (It’s easy to rationalize a poor test score--"The test doesn’t measure what’s wonderful about Taylor.") Instead, parents mostly want their kids to be happy and stay out of trouble. A teacher that doesn’t make her students work very hard and doesn’t demand good behavior meets those criteria perfectly.

While I believe your idea is with good intent and I am not going to bash you, I would strongly consider going back to the drawing board on this idea. I can't even imagine the number of ways this could possibly go wrong. From punishing lower-income students where parents are able to compete for the "good teachers", abuse by parents to punish a teacher, and even going as far as to create a racial barrier within the school preventing access to "good" teachers by parents blocking access to classes.

The number of ways this could possibly go wrong - It's true. It could end up being a disaster. But there are also probably unimaginable ways it could go right.

Lower-income students being punished - Lower-income students are already being punished for living in poor neighborhoods and being forced to go to terrible schools. Parents are already competing for good teachers by moving to wealthier neighborhoods. It wouldn't bother me one bit that some kids would get better teachers than others because I believe this system would provide better education for all students in an absolute sense.

Abuse by parents - I'm not sure what mean by "abuse". I am certainly not advocating for physical violence. I wouldn't use the word "abuse" for teachers having to be responsive to parents' demands.

Racial barrier - I'm not sure why anything in this proposed system would inherently be racist.

To address "abuse by parents", I am not referring to physical violence. Abuse by parents in the sense that a group of parents can conspire to "punish" a teacher they perceive as being unfair to their child by not bidding on that teacher's class, potentially resulting in the teacher being fired.

The racial barrier doesn't mean that it has to be inherently racist. It can simply mean that, for example, white parents avoiding African-American teachers. Or vice-versa. A bidding system such as this could potentially result in an unintended segregation within the school.

In many school systems, there is already a "bidding" process among schools that put the good teachers at the good schools and the bad teachers at the bad schools. It is called school choice and allows parents to choose which school their child goes to.

Assuming parents even have adequate information to make good choices, this seems like a surefire way to create wildly unbalanced classes. Giving difficult students to a bad teacher doesn't "punish" the bad teacher - it just creates a dysfunctional learning environment for the students who need it most.

I would seriously question the ethical resolve of my kid's school if they used such a system.

Adequate information - Do you think principals have adequate information? If so, why couldn't they just provide it to the parents then? Besides, there are many tools such as feedback reviews + word of mouth which would help with the information asymmetry.

Unbalanced classes - Classes may currently have balance within the school, but there is already a massive inbalance between schools. And why do we assume that all classrooms should have an equal distribution of IQ? Colleges do the opposite - they purposely exclude lower IQs.

Difficult students going to bad teachers - Maybe this is how it would turn out. I'm not sure. (But even if it did, it would be even more of an incentive for teachers to perform better - just a thought).

I would be hesitant to predict any specific outcome of this scheme, only that teachers would be more inclined to provide the service that parents actually want.

Ethical grounds - I would question the ethical resolve of any school that isn't open to whatever system will help students best.

>teachers would be more inclined to provide the service that parents actually want.

Teachers are there for the children. Satisfying parents is orthogonal, and often conflicting, objective.

Adequate information - Do you think principals have adequate information?

About the relative quality of teachers? Yes. They absolutely do as the monitoring/mentoring of teachers is a prime function of a school's administration.

If so, why couldn't they just provide it to the parents then?

For the same reason that any employer doesn't publicly release performance reviews to their clients? Are performance reviews public information in your work place?

Besides, there are many tools such as feedback reviews + word of mouth which would help with the information asymmetry.

Ratemyteacher/Ratemyprofessor have been around forever. They do

Unbalanced classes - Classes may currently have balance within the school, but there is already a massive inbalance between schools.

Your comments were not about balancing students/teachers between different schools so I'm sure what you're going for here.

And why do we assume that all classrooms should have an equal distribution of IQ? Colleges do the opposite - they purposely exclude lower IQs.

Higher education and k12 have intrinsically different missions. Public k12 schools are legally required to teach every student who walks through the door. They are also increasingly punished for failing to show educational growth for every student, regardless of that student's abilities and/or desire to learn.

Colleges not only get to exclude students that don't meet their requirements, they have no obligation to see that those students learn. If a student fails a college course it is patently assumed that the failure is the student's fault. K12 education isn't provided with that luxury (appropriately, IMO).

Difficult students going to bad teachers - Maybe this is how it would turn out. I'm not sure.

If you're creating a competitive, zero-sum game. Your wealthy/highly engaged parents will already assure that their students will be well supported (and take active benefit of legal devices to ensure that they are e.g. medical referrals/504 plans/etc.). By creating an explicit mechanism to further sort students based on their ability to bid financially for particular teachers you are intentionally skewing the playing field. You may not be sure, but I have zero doubt that your scheme - intended to "punish bad teachers" - would result in difficult/poor/reluctant students being placed into one class with a teacher who is inexperienced or otherwise less popular. Were that to happen, it could very quickly become a violation of the Equal Education Opportunities Act. Good luck at that rodeo.

(But even if it did, it would be even more of an incentive for teachers to perform better - just a thought). I would be hesitant to predict any specific outcome of this scheme, only that teachers would be more inclined to provide the service that parents actually want.

Dude - five tough students in a class of thirty is already a huge hurdle, even for experienced and professional teachers. Your system would not incentive teachers to improve. They would simply quit.

You're also assuming that there is some large deficit of effort between successful and unsuccessful teachers - as if unsuccessful teacher are just kicking their heels up on the desk all day. This is fallacious assumption. You may not believe it - but teaching is a complicated, difficult job.

Ethical grounds - I would question the ethical resolve of any school that isn't open to whatever system will help students best.

If the system itself is unethical then no ethical professionals will employ it.

This sounds terrible. Poor students get slapped down even more than they are now.

Yes we'd have to accept some would benefit more than others. But the idea is education as whole would improve and everyone benefits.

Please let this be some weird SV satire and not a real thing...

I seriously think it's great idea, but I am not seriously pursuing it at the moment.

Even more pressure for teachers to teach tu the test and /or give inflated grades.

Even less incentive for teachers to accept /focus on weaker students.

Teach to test + inflated grades - If that turns out to be true, then I suppose that is what parents want. Who else should be the one deciding how/what students are taught?

Weaker students - Maybe. But if weaker students are being overlooked then that could also create a market opportunity for other teachers to focus on those weaker students. Again, I would be hesitant to predict any specific outcome, only that teachers would be more responsive to what parents wanted.

Anyone want to take a crack at MyMathLab?

Speaking of maths, I'd like to see a cheaper TI-83.

Obligatory XKCD: https://xkcd.com/768/

Do you mean wolfram alpha?

Or, whatever you know. You can reinvent the wheel for all I care. https://play.google.com/store/search?q=ti-83

What about corporate educational systems?

I've been slowly working on an idea in this area for a while and and would love to be able to work on it full-time, part of its a software problem and that's the only part I've been working on thus far. I'm not doing this for monetary reasons at all, and don't really see how VC would ever be the right solution and lawmakers probably wouldn't allow it to happen either. But anyway I'll put the gist of the idea up here. I'd like to see what everyone thinks. I've been working on it anyway even if it is completely futile, just because I at least want the software for this to exist and maybe somewhere, some government would allow it to happen. So here goes.

Basically, number one indicator of success in school (excluding socio-economic factors) is having good teachers and very low student/teacher ratios, ideally 1-1 for most tasks (i.e traditional tutoring) and very small groups i.e. 3-5 per teacher for group work. Small groups have tons of benefits from keeping kids focused to dealing with misbehaving kids, etc.

Anyway, the idea consist in doing away with the traditional concept of a teacher at the primary school level (but eventually all levels). You can do this by hiring all your teachers on an hourly basis and leveraging college students, stay at home moms/dads, or just anyone with a GED and wanting to make a few extra bucks on the side. These teachers can work even just a couple hours a week if they want. Also, you don't have to have high standards on anything other than the teachers ability to communicate, being nice and helpful,liking to work with kids, and having a GED. The calculations I've done allow you to cut your student/teacher ratios by about a factor 3-4 and additionally allow for special tutoring of kids who need it for a couple hours a week.

Another key aspect of the model is that now kids are in smaller groups and can be paired with others who work roughly at their own pace, also I want to note that age no longer plays a role in determining which classes a student is in.

The whole time we're doing this the teachers and students are using software that has learning algorithms designed to tailor learning materials to the particular student. That student, then has a personalized and adaptive learning pathway through the digital courses at his school. There is also no longer the idea of a particular "year of work". Students take a comprehensive exam to exit every class and a fully comprehensive end of year exam for the courses they have mastered in that years time frame. All students can move more or less freely to and from groups and take these exams whenever they want, skipping entire courses if they have already mastered the materials and can prove it by passing the exams. So its not age but ability which determines where a student is placed. You can think of a school year (or a entire primary through high school curricula) as a graph where the classes are nodes and to go from one class to the next all a student needs to do is pass a particular exam.

The only real pedagogical emphasis is that we try to teach students how to teach themselves and provide them the digital materials to do so. Also my dream would be to be able to offer this to kids from the poorest neighborhoods first, because they're the ones who would benefit the most from a small group learning environment and 1-1 tutorship.

Anyway, that's the idea. If anyone is interested in helping out, please ping me up (email in bio). Right now the software is slow going since its just been me and my brother working on this in our spare time. Thanks for the feedback.

First reaction is that this would work well with ideal students and struggle (probably fail) with real world students. I principally say this not because the general idea is invalid (many online education and digital cognitive tutors are looking in a similar direction) it's just that young people are not good at self motivating when things are difficult (or when they have a more attractive alternative). Those super self directed learners will succeed no matter what, and this sort of program would probably work fine. The vast majority of students (even "good" students) do not fall in this bin. Your untrained hourly teachers may be able to provide such motivation, but there is significant value in the kind of relationships an experienced instructor can create over time with immature/reluctant/distractible/traumatized/hungry/sleepy/angry students.

You have to imagine a school full of children like a room full of hackers that will work harder to break your system than they will to follow it.

On this forum people say "all you need is a library card" to learn Computer Science, but you also need to read those library books.

How does your system deal with students that just refuse to do anything?

> How does your system deal with students that just refuse to do anything?

How is this dealt with in normal schools? From what I remember, students that didn't do anything just got passed on to the next year (maybe having to go to summer school which just meant showing up and you get passed on to the next grade).

Obviously, software can only help minimally here (by giving teachers better insights sooner into which students aren't doing their assignments, etc). I think overall, you really have to lower student/teacher ratios a lot. This helps significantly with misbehaving or problem kids in my experience and creates a more personal connection to the teacher.

If you have any ideas yourself on ways to solve this problem I'd really like to hear them.

Only punishment mechanism I can think of is the parents have to make sure the kid is actually doing his students. The software could have some some alert system that sends an e-mail saying "junior didn't turn in homework 3/5 etc."

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