Panorama Expands School Surveys, Brings Insights to Education

Good data is hard to find. Whether you’re applying it to business intelligence or security, across industries like retail, travel, or healthcare, the quality of information used to make decisions is crucial.

To solve this expanding problem, a number of technology companies have emerged around cleaning and organizing data, making it more shareable, and understanding the context around business interactions.

Yet in education, the problem is more basic: much of the key data doesn’t even exist, not to mention the fact that educators, policy makers, and parents often don’t agree on what data is necessary to collect in the first place. For all the talk of iPad classroom apps, online courses, and standardized test scores, administrators still lack quantitative assessments of daily life in their schools: What percentage of kids don’t feel safe going to class? How do teachers feel about the administration and their ability to focus on teaching? What are their best practices?

This would seem to be an opportunity for data-related tech companies to improve the education system—yet not many are tackling it. “If we could get every adtech person to work in education or edtech, that would be a job well done,” says Aaron Feuer, co-founder and CEO of Panorama Education, based in Boston.

Feuer’s company is one of the few going after the hard problem of data collection in K-12 schools. With more than $4 million in backing from Y Combinator, Google Ventures, Mark Zuckerberg, and other investors, Panorama Education has been quietly growing: it’s up to 30-some employees, and its software is used in 200-plus school districts around the U.S., as well as a few international pilot studies.

Panorama provides school districts with software to run surveys of teachers and students and analyze the results. The company has been designing its own survey questions and developing its product to be a measurement and analysis tool for the things that matter most to schools. As Feuer puts it, “What does the superintendent need to know?”

Aaron Feuer

Aaron Feuer

In working with districts, Feuer says, the startup’s goal has been to “paint a comprehensive picture of a school.” And now, he says, “for the first time we have something close to a 360-degree view.”

To give an idea of the level of detail captured in the company’s surveys and analysis tools: A school might learn that bullying is a problem—no surprise there—but more specifically that 10 percent of students don’t feel safe, and that a major issue is that teachers don’t seem to act when they see signs of bullying, Feuer says.

Another example: a district found that a subset of students thought their teachers didn’t notice when they were absent. That gets to the issue of whether kids think their teachers care about them. “That’s much more helpful than just an attendance record,” Feuer says. To brainstorm solutions, … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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