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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Google founders suspended their Ph.D. programs.
Bezos has a BS.
Gates dropped out.
Zuckerberg dropped out.
> Zuckerberg dropped out.
Both of them managed to get into Harvard, which is an academic achievement in itself though.
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.
I know about a guy with a serious hoarding syndrome, who has hundreds of gigabytes of the stuff stashed somewhere.
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 :)
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.
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.
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".
- 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.
"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.
- 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.
Here is a recent article:
We’re not really a code bootcamp but we get thousands of applications per month and have employers incredibly hungry for our grads.
Also, kudos on grundles. That is my new favorite word.
> Noun. grundle (plural grundles) (US, slang) The area between anus and scrotum in a male or between anus and vulva in a woman. 
"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.
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.
Most are clearing millions in profit.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...)
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.
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 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 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.
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?
It does show that it's possible to teach a large class effectively. Teaching talent makes all the difference, with technology to support 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%.
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)
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?
It will save you major headaches.
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 . It's insane how much of what he wrote 40 years ago still holds true.
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.
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.
For example a matchmaking service for shared learning goals or interests could for sure be within the power of a startup. Something like 42 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.
I'm not sure how you would resolve the two (without, of course, cracking the nut on a neutral, true-ability assessment system).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Here's a short clip of a class (it's also on our website): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4xaiZrbD_Y
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.
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.
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
Making tens of thousands of dollars for a 2 day workshop/corporatetraining is not unheard of. No millions of dollars from VCs required.
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.
It's not in the US though so YMMV.
Textfyre Final Presentation, 2012
(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.
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.
Tech lipstick on underperforming, segregated, for-profit schools isn't going to make them any prettier.
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".
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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..?
The problem with parental involvement is (usually) the desire to participate rather than opportunity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
"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 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... :-)
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.
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!
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.
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)?
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.
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.
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.
I would seriously question the ethical resolve of my kid's school if they used such a system.
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 are there for the children. Satisfying parents is orthogonal, and often conflicting, objective.
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.
If the system itself is unethical then no ethical professionals will employ it.
Even less incentive for teachers to accept /focus on weaker students.
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.
Obligatory XKCD: https://xkcd.com/768/
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.
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 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.