Edtech Companies Foresee Boost from New K-12 Standards

8/4/14Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

[Corrected 8/4/14, 10:24 am. See below.] As California teachers prepare for the start of classes this fall, many will face new uncertainties and demands. Starting in the 2014-2015 academic year, California school districts will begin implementing the Common Core, a new set of K-12 educational achievement standards that raise the bar for both students and teachers. The new criteria have been adopted by 43 states, though each state is putting them into effect on its own schedule.

Implementing these nearly nationwide standards may be a heavy lift for teachers and school districts, in California and other states. But the Common Core rollout may also be a boon to education technology companies such as San Mateo, CA-based Edmodo and Education Elements in San Carlos, CA, which are adapting their products and services to help educators nationwide to meet the challenges.

While the hundreds of Common Core criteria address basics like reading and grammar, arithmetic and long division, they also incorporate higher order skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. For example, by the fourth grade, students will be expected to be able to identify the theme of a story by reasoning from details in the text. As U.S. teachers prepare for these new goals, edtech companies are lining up to help.

“I think technology as a tool is more important than ever,” says Amy Jenkins, vice president of marketing at Education Elements, a consulting firm that advises schools across the country on their choice of learning technologies. Digital learning can reinforce a teacher’s lessons, deliver real-time reports on student comprehension, and free up time for instructors to work closely with individual pupils or small groups, she says. “It enables teachers to be able to push toward that higher-order thinking and do that in a sustainable way.”

From a business perspective, the uniform learning goals of the Common Core also make the U.S. K-12 market somewhat less choppy and segmented for edtech companies like Edmodo and Education Elements, which serve classrooms in many states. Rather than cobbling together multiple products tailored to each state’s individual standards—an expensive endeavor—companies can aim to create consistent online learning tools for users in the majority of states.

“There is absolutely a level of efficiency that’s gained,” Jenkins says.

Edtech companies have taken different paths toward incorporating the Common Core into their business strategies. Education Elements, which advises more than 100 schools in various states, focuses on redesigning the classroom experience to make the most of both technology and the teacher’s skill in order to satisfy the new achievement standards. More about that to come. But first, let’s look at Edmodo, which has recently launched a set of new features directly tied to the Common Core.

While Education Elements was founded in 2010 to serve schools as paying clients, Edmodo launched its business in 2008 by offering a free “social learning network” to instructors eager to try online education apps. Those early adopters spread the word.

Edmodo CEO Crystal Hutter

Edmodo CEO Crystal Hutter

“Teachers adopted it on a grassroots level,” says CEO Crystal Hutter. Teachers use the Edmodo platform to assign classwork, trade messages with students, and pull in online educational content from many different app developers. Edmodo has also been reaching out to school administrators, who can open free accounts to track how their teachers are using the edtech platform. Edmodo now claims an international user base of more than 35 million teachers, students, parents, and administrators. [A previous version of this story said that Edmodo had 35,000 users. We apologize for the error.]

With its new features geared toward the Common Core, Edmodo hopes to spur more teachers to use its free learning platform. But it also hopes to attract school districts as paying clients. Edmodo started in April with the launch of a free service called Snapshot for Teachers, which is designed to help instructors monitor their students’ progress throughout the school year on the Common Core standards in math and English language arts for grades 3-12.

At a teacher’s direction, Snapshot automatically generates test questions to gauge how well students grasp the concepts or skills required by a specific Common Core standard, such as an understanding of fractions.

Based on the results of Snapshot-generated tests, the Edmodo tool sends teachers recommendations for learning apps to assign to individual students who are struggling over particular topics—a mechanism for personalizing instruction, says Edmodo senior product manager Kevin Jenkins (no relation to Education Elements’ Amy Jenkins.)

“It gives really specific feedback, instead of just, ‘Try harder,’ ” Kevin Jenkins says.

On top of the free Snapshot tool for teachers, Edmodo also created a premium version— also focused on the Common Core—for school administrators and school district officials. On July 22, Edmodo launched Snapshot for Schools, which school districts can buy to keep tabs on how well their classroom teachers are managing to instill Common Core concepts in their students. Hutter says the new service was based on feedback from school administrators.

The fee is $2,000 per school, though there are various discounts, Kevin Jenkins says. Districts will get the most value from the premium service if all its teachers use the quizzes created by Edmodo’s Snapshot. These tests can deliver frequent real-time data on classroom progress, well ahead of the new assessment tests that might reveal Common Core knowledge gaps at the end of the academic year.

Making up quizzes is one of the routine chores that keep teachers up at night at their kitchen tables. Edmodo’s Snapshot not only … Next Page »

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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  • David Casseres 65

    Very nice article, but there’s a typo: Edmodo has 35 million users, not 35 thousand.