Edtech Insiders

Week in Edtech 10/30/22 with Guest Joe Connor of Odyssey

October 30, 2022 Alex Sarlin Season 3 Episode 26
Edtech Insiders
Week in Edtech 10/30/22 with Guest Joe Connor of Odyssey
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we speak with Joe Connor of Odyssey, which raised a $4.75M dollar seed round this week to help districts and families use flexible education funding sources, like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and microgrants.

Ben and Alex also discuss:

1) Elections & Education: The Rise of Education Polarization 

  • Is College Worth It? Voters Are Split. (Five Thirty Eight)
  • How the Diploma Divide Is Remaking American Politics (New York)
  • ‘There Are Two Americas Now: One With a B.A. and One Without’ (NYTimes)
  • Award-Winning Teachers Are Pushing Back Against Attacks on ‘Honest Education’ (Edweek)

2) Stanford's Pandemic-Fueled Pivot to Online Education

  • Review of Stanford’s ‘emergency remote teaching’ and learning explores lessons learned from the pandemic (Stanford)

3) Edtech Mega-VC Michael Moe on the Metaverse

4) Gates foundation pivots to Math as NAEP scores underscore crisis 

  • Student math scores are down from pre-COVID levels, the National Report Card finds (NPR)
  • Why the Gates Foundation Is Investing $1.1 Billion in Math Education (Edweek
  • NAEP ‘Nation’s Report Card’ Shows Steep Fall in Math Scores (Edsurge)
  • How Do Schools Come Back From ‘Catastrophic’ Drops in Math, Reading on NAEP? (Edweek)

5) Digital Surveillance and Monitoring in Schools and Children's Right to Privacy

  • Kids Are Back in Classrooms and Laptops Are Still Spying on Them (Wired)
  • Surveillance Education Cycle: Finding Ways to Protect Privacy in Schools (Random Lengths News)
  • New Polling Finds Parents and Educators Overwhelmingly Support Technology Designed to Keep Students Safe Online (GoGuardian PR)

Welcome to Season Two of edtech insiders, where we talk to the most interesting thought leaders, founders, entrepreneurs, educators and investors driving the future of education technology. I'm your host, Alex Sarlin, an edtech veteran with over 10 years of experience at the top edtech company. Hello, everyone, it is the weekend ed tech. It is the week of October 26. We're heading into Halloween. We are excited for the festivities. The Fall holiday season is upon us. And we have all sorts of news across the EdTech landscape. Before we dive in, though, Alex, and my wonderful co host is here. Tell us what's going on with Ed Tech insiders, a lot of exciting content and interviews this week. Yeah. So we put out a really fun and interesting interview this week with Monica Arez, who is the head of immersive learning at meta. So they are you know, the biggest VR company in the world focusing on on learning on b2c and b2b. And we had a really good conversation about what are the sorts of promises and obstacles to VR in education. So highly recommended? Definitely want to check that one out. Fabulous. Well, one other event that's coming up is the election. And we'll start our headline section with a little bit about the election from our friends at 538. Yes, 538 is still putting out election articles after the debacle of the presidential election. But the data is really interesting when it comes to education and the political divide. They look specifically at feelings and opinions about higher ed. And what they've basically been able to show is that a voters level of education has not only become increasingly important as a predictor, and whether they're Republican or Democrat, but also, the views on whether college is worth it or not, are trending very starkly across party lines, with Democrats largely supporting higher education, and Republicans now moving in the other direction. One of the stats that caught my eye was more than four and five Republicans agreed with the statement that most college professors teach liberal propaganda. And high schools are trying to teach liberal propaganda, compared with only 17 and 16% of Democrats respectively. You know, some of this is our broader landscape of institutions, losing credibility with the public. But some of this actually has to do with the way schools have approached free speech, approach their education, educational mission, and it's becoming quite a political topic that could end up adding more instability to higher ed funding and the higher ed agenda. You cover this beat? What was your take when you read this? And what stood out to you? Oh, yeah, I mean, it was pretty startling to see a statistic that, you know, more than 80% of Republicans, and this is likely voters this specifically the 538 survey was for Republican likely voters agreed that most college professors teach liberal propaganda that just like, really makes you, you know, sort of stop in your tracks. And this follows on a set of amazing research that's been coming out over the last few years about what they call education polarization in the US, where in the past, it was actually, you know, having a college degree was more predictive of being a Republican, for many, many generations. And in the last few decades, that's completely swapped, to the extent that, you know, college degrees are highly predictive of democratic voting. And there's actually this enormous of the, you know, there's a terrific article in The New York Times at the beginning of this month, called education divides everything, there are two Americas now, one with a BA and one without, and really just about how this stacked identities for the two political parties now include educational attainment, and basically knowing whether somebody has a degree or not, and how they feel about college is highly highly predictive of their political party. So that's why they call it the diploma divide or, you know, there's a few different sort of ways of framing this, but it's quite a big deal. And it's something that I think, you know, higher education, it has been facing a lot of different crises, so to speak, or at least, you know, turning points inflection points over the last few decades. And I think the most recent one that they're going to have to really, really grapple with is just the idea that one of the two major political parties in the US basically considers college a little bit of a sham. It's a brainwashing experiment. That's wildly overpriced, and they're pushing their kids not to go or to go to, you know, very selective schools that don't have these characteristics. That's a big deal when you're already in a enrollment crisis. So I think Ed Tech, ideally, can actually help fill the gap here by providing either alternatives or supplements to the college experience that make it you know, make it cheaper, make it higher return, make it more practical, and also sort of try to remove that bias of the concept of brainwashing and propaganda and all of this sort of messages that the Republican Party has been pushing for college to its constituents. So really, really intense. What do you think, Ben? I have so many questions, and not very many answers. I mean, one question that I have is this is signed that, you know, our parties have basically let go of like, the debate over ideas as the dividing line. And it's really about the culture wars, because I think, you know, in the past, it would be Republican pro business, and maybe Democrat, pro labor, or, you know, ideas around how economics work. And I just don't see those as dividing lines politically anymore. And so, you know, one thing that's would be dangerous would be for universities to overcorrect as intellectual institutions, should they be, you know, essentially suppressing their intellectual mandate, in order to find culture more fit with both sides. So, you know, I can see the university side of this. The other question that I'd love to hear your thoughts on is, as we move towards stackable degrees, which are disaggregated, and we move away from, you know, the four year campus experience that often I think, is associated with this liberalization of students, because that's, you know, it's not just in their classrooms, it's part of the social system, that people, you know, their minds are opened, do you think that this, the stackable degrees are actually going to be more appealing to conservatives? Or as they essentially freed from, you know, one party bias or another? Or do you actually think that that would accelerate things and make it even more skewed, and the fragmentation might actually have greater niches that support even more extreme political viewpoints? What do you think? I think they're both probably true. My prediction is that, yes, 100% stackable degrees, or industry certifications, or all of these alternative pathways that are designed to, as you say, sort of move away from that four year liberal arts, you know, you go to a campus and meet all these people and get your mind opened, slash get exposed to quote, liberal propaganda. I do think they're going to be very appealing to conservatives, including the education as a benefit, you know, Amazon career choice, the guild education work. So yes, I do think that we're heading towards a world in which a political party of a family may be somewhat predictive of what type of education they pursue, and they may be less and less inclined to four year liberal arts for conservatives. And yes, I also agree that if we continue to go that way, it is it could further the education polarization, because then you have a country where, you know, we're many of the conservatives, or people who grew up in conservative families never went to go to a four year college and never had that sort of potentially transitional change. That is exactly what people that what parents worry about. So you don't I mean, I remember when I was in my sociology classes in college, they talked about how college was incredible, basically, whether or not you graduated from college, any college no matter what kind was predictive of who you married, how you voted, what kind of work you did, where you lived, I mean, hugely predictive of what, what your life was going to be like. Yeah. And, and I think that's part of how we both got to this place where you're very different, you know, different Americas. And also, I think it'll continue to go even further, if we have all these alternatives. That said, I still think it's a good thing. I think there should be alternatives to this sort of four year liberal arts education, especially when it costs what it does. Now. So I mean, there is we've talked about this before, but this is a very stark reminder that the purpose of a college education back in the past one of the top three bullets, I don't know in which order was an informed citizenry. Right, the purpose of education was great citizens who are thinking critically about what the country needs so that they can participate in democracy. And I would say that schools in their quest for ROI are really now leaning far, far, far into career. machines, and especially the stackable degrees are not, you know, touting you will come out of this program as a great citizen. And so while I think the stackable degrees are important for relevance for access for, you know, creating more dynamic learning, there's something lost here, if we don't have a way to bring diverse people together to debate ideas and essentially understand other point of views critically, a great article this week by Nicole Barbaro at Western Governors called tuition increases have killed intellectual curiosity. And it's basically making a similar argument to what you're just saying that because college has gotten so expensive, it's changed the dynamic and now people can't go for the mind opening reasons only that they used to be able to go to I think, you know, but I hear you definitely something getting majorly last. And I think we all have to think about how to keep it alive. Well, the final part of this headline is please go and vote if you're in a place where you can vote. And November 8, here in the US is our elections. And wish me luck. I'm running for school board. So we'll find out probably November 9, whether I made it or not. So hopefully, we'll have an update in the next podcast. All right, on to Stanford pivoting to online education. So in the wake of all of this turmoil in higher ed, we've highlighted many players who are being quite innovative. Rarely do we have one of the blueblood schools pulling back the curtain and explaining what they did what they learned and what was challenging during online education. And you know, Stanford, being in Silicon Valley, and having access to kind of world class technologists is just, you know, a leader in this space. And Matthew Roscoff, who's somebody I've met in the past, is there a Provost who actually doesn't have a PhD or professorship appointment. So that was in and of itself, like revolutionary that he was appointed. But in this article, the researchers talk about new approaches that were tried the use of technology, switch to online education and roles. Also, you know, the info demic student well being, they really cover everything that went on at Stanford, and it's not all like, we did it so well, it's actually really great. And just uncovering the struggles of an elite institution. So much in here, what stood out to you, Alex. So the two that jumped out most me here was the sort of combination of they said that instructors became more sophisticated in their use of technologies, especially the the ubiquitous, you know, the zoom, and Canvas technologies that Stanford used for their online courses that suddenly, you know, by every professor suddenly having to be teach some zoom classes, there was a huge uptake in the sort of sophistication of use both professors, you know, learning on their own. And I think working with the central instructional design, folks, that was really great to hear, and hopefully, you know, the type of inflection that we see a lot of a lot of schools were, you know, suddenly it went from, I remember, you know, people reaching out to me and saying, how to, how do I teach a zoom class, I've never done this before, I don't even know how to see, you know, turn on my camera. And I think there's a major change there. And then the other was this wellbeing section, which I thought was interesting. So they said that, you know, Stanford offered all of these guides to faculty about how to do more whole that will not hold child exactly, but sort of hold learner check ins, they temperature checks and shear spaces and ways to build empathy and sort of appreciate that everybody was going through this world pandemic together. Why I thought those were both interesting is they're sort of opposites, right? It's like, there's like this, okay, I'm gonna drill down and actually learn how to use all the side features of zoom and the emojis and all this stuff. And also, I'm going to sort of zoom out and think differently about what I even doing as a college professor and give people time to share their feelings. Really interesting combination. And I bet that we see this at a lot of different schools and Stanford's just being very explicit about it. Yeah, it is interesting, because, you know, many of these universities are actually driven by research. And what I really appreciated here was the focus on teaching and learning and instruction. I also felt like the points about the different roles changing was really eye opening for K 12. The biggest role that changed was the parent role. So now I as a parent have an active role in managing my child who is at home and that has translated to greater parent engagement and parent concern about the the performance of students in K 12. What we saw in higher education was students carrying more of a peer to peer load on students organizing and facilitating and you know, the professor kind of moving from the podium into discussion leader into enabler into facilitator. All of these are moves pedagogically that we know are great moves for engagement. And it just encourages me to think about. And you know, maybe there's something about the Stanford professors that are uniquely able to shift their pedagogical stance. But I think this is a broader trend that professors think of themselves as teachers, and they're now willing to adopt new practices that engage learners in new and different ways. encourage everybody to read it. We're hoping to get the Stanford team on the pod next week to talk a little bit about this. Before we move on anything else on the Stanford front before we talk about the metaverse? No, I just really agree. I remember, you know, in my Coursera days, sometimes they would talk about how getting professors to teach online for the first time, which a lot of them were with Coursera was leaking back into their practices on campus. And people were constantly saying, Hey, by thinking differently about what I'm doing, as a teacher, this is actually changing how I think about, you know, my in person classes. And, you know, that, of course, was a very small group of professors compared to you know, everyone who went online during the pandemic. So I'm hoping that, you know, coming out of this moment, it really is very widespread like you, like you say, widespread sort of change in people's understanding of what their what they do if they're a faculty member or an adjunct. What do I do? Well, I care about my students well, being I play different roles. I learn how to use the technology in a really effective ways. I don't think those were on people's minds, you know, in 2019, so I'm excited. Yeah, let's talk metaverse. Yeah, we're so we're talking about young people's minds in 2019. Now we're talking about young people's minds in 2029. And I imagine Michael Mo, who is one of the founders and leaders of GSV, that large funder. I imagine him riding a horse with like a Paul Revere outfit going, the metaverse is coming. The Metaverse is coming. If it's possible to have an internet tome. The GSB team has dropped one. It is the Middlemarch of Metaverse, and it is an amazing article that talks about with great optimism about the future of the metaverse and learning VR AR. That also gives a great history of VR. And it walks through a little bit of the go forward dynamics, not just a VR as a technology, but also of the markets and the kind of b2b path to market then going b2c. It's incredible article so much to talk about here. What are some of the sections that stood out to you? And also, you know, what resonated with themes from your interview with our colleagues at Mehta? What What kind of stood out to you? Yeah, great question. What jumped out to me was this sort of combination of a very clear eyed acknowledgement of all of the virtual reality failures of the past? Yeah, I mean, you know, literally walks through every attempt to do VR in the last 100 plus years. It's been around for a while, in various ways, starting with the stereoscope. But in the last 15 years, we've seen the Magic Leap, you know, have huge funding and huge excitement and just totally burned out. He mentioned the Microsoft HoloLens, which I think is still in its early days, but as something that had a lot of a lot of traction that didn't work as a mixed reality, talked about Google Glass, which, of course, was on everybody's mind in 2014, and then just disappear, at least everybody in Silicon Valley's mind, and then it's just disappeared. So a very clear eyed acknowledgment that yes, we've been here before, we've been saying that VR is coming. We meeting, you know, Silicon Valley optimists and entrepreneurs for a long time. But then he gives, I think, a pretty compelling case for why this time may be a little different. You have enormous companies working together, he talks about the meta Microsoft partnership as a really key moment, which is something that I don't think has been covered very much then meta is having Microsoft Teams and office and all of these Microsoft products in VR in no idea, I had no idea that was happening. I didn't either. And it sounds I mean, those are, you know, two of the biggest companies and tech companies in the world. He's listed the top 10 VR companies and z space, which is a really interesting company. We don't talk about z space ever here. But z space does this wacky really interesting, sort of augmented reality kind of textbooks where you can like see things in 3d, as is one of the top 10 VR companies, which I did not expect. And then the last thing that stood out to me was this concept of that VR maybe the reason it's failed in the past is that it's tried to go b2c First with often and there's this idea of You know, with computers and cell phones and a lot of the other sort of transformative technologies, many people experience them first at work, and saw them at work and use them to work. And, you know, for a while before they were sort of available commercially for customers, and he's saying, hey, the new meta device, which is $1,500 is really a b2b device. It's designed to allow really powerful business, you know, implementations, but by doing so, will normalize VR and is trying to get everybody to understand what it can actually do and get excited about it as a potentially, you know, transformative technology like the cell phone or the the internet itself. Really interesting, very optimistic as characteristic of a super star VC. But at the same time, I was convinced I am still bullish on VR, despite all the failures, what did you make of it, Ben, what were your standouts? And I love that you're convinced it doesn't take much convincing for you. Reverse does it? It doesn't. So the learning angle I thought was particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. One, your point about b2b, I think there was this, there has been an assumption that it's a gaming spillover, that's likely to help VR grow. And that would be a b2c move. And he really strongly makes the case that no actually learning in VR in the workplace is one of the most powerful use cases for VR. And things like you know, a surgeon practicing a heart surgery, without having to risk the life of the patient. That's a that's a very stark one. But also, um, you know, he talks about, you know, basically the ability to put on your VR headset and approach your workstation from anywhere, engage with your mentors or your support structures, or have an experiential learning without getting on a plane and going there, which would save the company money. There's like all of these use cases in the business setting where it can, you know, the $1,500 investment drives cost down, drives employee engagement and effectiveness up. It's still hard though, for me to imagine this might just be my like lack of creative thinking, the IT guy, when you get your first day on the job, here's your laptop, here's your key card. And here's your VR headset. I still, I think we're a ways off from that. But I do think there are specifically some professions and use cases that are going to be picking up on this really quickly. The other thing he talks about is dreamscape learn, which we've mentioned before on the podcast. And the so in the article are the academic results. And I think that what is really exciting here is that VR learners required less time to learn, they learn one and a half times faster than E learners, the employees were they demonstrate higher confidence and what they learned, they were 275% More confident on learning versus a classroom learners and E learners being at 40% and 35%. VR learners had stronger emotional connection to training content. And some of this has to do with the storytelling element. But they said 3.75 times greater emotional connection than classroom learners, which I found just shocking, because, you know, that's one of the big sells on in person learning. VR learners, we're more focused, and we are learner learning is more cost effective. So they, let's not overstate the, the results here, I think it was something like 2000 learners that they had doing VR and 2000, doing classroom based, and so on. But if any one of these is true, it does suggest that it could be a meaningful tool in the toolkit. And if all of them are true, it makes it really clear that, you know, for especially small doses of learning VR can be incredibly effective for outcomes, retention and engagement. Yes, then the evidence is starting to grow and pile up about some of these effects. You, the Harvard Graduate School of Education put out a great report about VR a few months ago, and they had a few different reviews of some of the studies. Some of them are about, you know, learning efficacy and things like, you know, surgery, or flight simulations. It's been a long, long time use of VR, but others were about you know, there was one that stood out to me about a virtual field trip to Greenland, for k 12 students and they came out with like, you know, more engaged, more knowledgeable and more excited, you know, or I forgot the exactly the measures about climate change learning than you know, then the equivalent of an in class or a video, and I think it's coming. I mean, one thing that I recently interviewed the head of a company called Praxis Labs, which is really interesting company that does is exactly this kind of b2b VR that is mentioned in the article. And there, you know, when you mentioned that, do you get your, your VR headset on your first day of work? You know, definitely not yet. But their model seemed like something that made sense, which is they have these monthly experiences, basically, so that every month you do a experience, and they're about diversity, equity and inclusion training in VR. So you do things like, you know, take on the perspective of a bystander, during a microaggression. Or they give an example of you, you are a take the perspective of an autistic employee, and they throw you a birthday party and you experience the actual overstimulation of the birthday party. And I'm like, That is fascinating. And the sort of once a month, you step away from your regular work to do this is an interesting complement to the vision that Mehta and Microsoft have of like, I held all my meetings in VR, or, Oh, I work in the coffee shop, I put on my VR headset, and I get, you know, four monitors, virtually, and I do my Minority Report, you know, style work, like there are different use cases. But the practice labs when really stood out to me because it felt so approachable, it's such a nice way to sort of dip your foot in this world and experience it without having to change behaviors all the time. So I think maybe that type of b2b learning might be the pioneering style that we start to see there's a lot of different companies taking different approaches to it. It's an exciting time. And we'll obviously always link to the articles in the show notes. But there's this Michael mail newsletter, which is relatively new, and his VR articles definitely worth reading, if you want to sort of get an overview of that field. Well, we go from optimism to some of the starkest news that we've had, in the last several months, the nape scores that's in a EP, have been getting all sorts of headlines around a crisis point in math education. And basically the synopsis is that any gains that we've seen in terms of student math attainment across the board, as well as African American Latino students, we've just experienced a record fall in math scores, article and EdSurge, on this articles across, you know, EdWeek, and then a number of major publications, including New York Times, and, and so on. One thing that we wanted to talk about was data or announcement that was just made this week, which is about Gates Foundation. So Gates Foundation, for those who don't know, the backstory, they have been the most influential philanthropy in the education space, something like 20 years ago, they were moving towards small schools. And we saw a school design and school structures and formations change across America, in response, not just to the direct philanthropic dollars, but the research data and approaches that were advocated by the Foundation, the Gates Foundation is now going all in on math, they're investing 1.1 billion in math, education. And simultaneously, they're winding down many of their effective or successful or popular programs and other subjects. And the idea is that they're really going to work on closing the math achievement gap, and helping American students reach their full math potential. One thing that I find really interesting about this is, you know, the Gates Foundation, they they tend to have, you know, outsized impact in the philanthropic space. So the way gates goes is the way a lot of other people go. But this one is pretty controversial, because it really is putting math above all else. And this laser focus is leaving some funded organizations high and dry. I also think it's interesting because math is really important leverage point for kids, if you think about your high school schedule, what is it all revolved around, it's which math section are you in. And so if we can give kids access to the best math, they will not only have the best access to math, but they will also in high school and in college, you know, be able to take the advanced classes and all of the other subjects. So it's a really bold move. Gates Foundation has been rolling this one out over the last year, to be honest, it's just now getting the publicity. But these nape scores actually, I think, give a lot of wind in their sails on the why they're doing this 100% And, you know, the article talks about Zurn, which is a digital math program that's all about sort of accelerated remediation and math where and they just can't do and came out with a big study saying that, the more that you can keep students in grade level math, the more you don't sort of push them back into earlier grades, the better the results, and Zurn has been sort of growing over the years as well. As a really big playing solution in the K 12 space for math and you're not sent was made sort of partially with, you know, the CEO of zoom was on this announcement call, you definitely get a sense that they're going to lean into existing and new solutions. It's been interesting seeing these nape results go sort of mainstream. And we talked about 10 nape results a few weeks ago when they, when we talked about it. Yeah, exactly. And now, like, it's on every news, I mean, you see it on the nightly news about, because it's such dramatic fall in scores, and disproportionately affecting, you know, under serve students, as always in education. Sadly, I hopefully, you know, Gates always has incredible intentions. And it's filled with very, very smart philanthropists. But it also just inherently is a political organization. I you know, anybody that gates gates is a supporter of the Common Core years ago was one of the reasons why there was this enormous backlash against the Common Core. And I think there are a whole set of people and educators and parents in this country who basically think that anything the gates, foundation touches is is tainted. So I'm hoping that that does not happen with this because the last thing we need is math students getting is math being polarized, but it is interestingly said that you're going to focus on California, Florida, New York, and Texas, because you have a high percentage of children in poverty, who are affected the most by these these score decreases, and in general, have the worst math education. That's a pretty clean split between sort of Democratic and Republican states. And I think we'll get to see a really interesting, controlled experiment in whether gates can move the needle on math without creating a backlash, you know, among parents, it's hopefully, they can, and they among many other funders and great educators. Yeah, do it. I mean, one thing that I always like to call out on this show is like, education has some pretty incredible market distortions. And one of those is that big tech plays in education. And they don't need to make any money in education, because it's really customer acquisition. But another big distortion in our market is are these large philanthropic funds. And, you know, Schmidt futures is going all in on AI and education and gains, his going all in on math. And previously CCI was all in on personalization. And there's ways in which like companies and organizations, and in even school districts adopt and transform the way that they do things, to respond to all this philanthropic capital and to leverage it. But when the philanthropic capital goes away, what happens? And are we creating, you know, enduring entities. Zurn is a really great example is a for profit company that actually pivoted to a nonprofit because they couldn't make it as a for profit on an investable timeline. So I do think that, you know, the other element to watch here is, who's getting blessed and cursed by the Gates money? And are they able to navigate it successfully to get to a place where they're sustainable, ongoing entities, despite, you know, an infusion of capital to go after these huge K 12 markets? All right now, for the final rundown online safety, digital surveillance, monitoring and the right to privacy for children. You know, the election is upon us. But one thing that people aren't talking about is student digital surveillance. A number of articles here, I'm happy to tee it up. Also happy to hear your initial thoughts in this one. What do you want to do? I think you should definitely dive right in. Yeah. So I've been connecting a lot of dots through investing conversations through meetings with entrepreneurs. And one of the things that I'm sure everybody realizes is that the pandemic rapidly scaled the access to internet for kids, and access to devices. And in general, this is really great thing. A byproduct of that, though, is that kids are accessing the internet through their school issued devices, or through the Wi Fi at their schools. And all of that data is actually heavily monitored by a few companies, the companies that are the biggest or go Guardian securely, and gaggle. And many of this monitoring, you know, part of the pitch is that we keep kids safe. And there's no doubt that these organizations are intervening when kids are demonstrating suicidality or thinking about violence and so on and so forth. But it also is raising these questions around. What else might one do or could one do with that data? And I don't think parents are aware that their school district is getting massive amounts of data from their kids. about many things that are relevant to the family's life and personal life. And so there's a growing debate around is this monitoring for safety is or is this digital surveillance? And where does it cross the line? And I think the biggest statement from somebody that was talking to you that stood out with me, he said that basically kids under 18 don't have a right to free speech. They don't have a freedom to privacy, because they're using district issued devices and internet, all of that can be monitored, tracked, suppressed, encouraged in its, it was just a mind blowing. Aha. And I think something that people aren't really talking about in the space enough. Yeah, it's an incredible Aranda. And I think it, you're putting your finger on something that has been a sort of below somewhat below the surface tension in ed tech for quite a long time, and has sort of picked through at times, anybody who lived through the inBloom, you know, scandal, or whatever you want to call that debacle, knows that there's been this really tricky conversation between monitoring and security for students. And there's no doubt that products that monitor communications for students have saved lives, they have kept school shootings from happening, they have kept kids from accessing inappropriate content in every way you can imagine. But there's also by being so deeply integrated into the school systems, they have access to abundant and almost absurd amount of private data from the students, which is not, as you say, really, actually private when if a school if a kid is using their own device, on a school Wi Fi, that means that it can be completely monitored and censored and used as used to label that student at risk or other things. I think during the pandemic, that as with almost everything at Tech, it just accelerated. Because you have, to some extent, maybe a little bit of a pullback, because you've had kids not in school. So if they're using their personal devices at home, suddenly they're out of that sort of circle. But there's an acceleration of the use of technology and a lot more security systems that are in place as well. So I think we're in sort of uncharted territory when it comes to this stuff. And the big risk. And, you know, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Ben, I think you understand more about this than I do. But the big risk is that these businesses that are, you know, monitoring student behavior online, actually are getting all this data, which could potentially then be used to give to partners or sell to companies or, you know, used for commercial reasons. And that is what makes many, many people very uncomfortable. And on the other side makes other people very excited that they might have all of this data on students, which is, you know, very valuable data. They're huge consumer. I think that's the crux of this. And so two points. One is, you know, there are laws that protect student data privacy, and there are ways in which the data has to be anonymized before it can be aggregated outside of the school district. So the school district does have a right to specific student data. So one, people might have concerns about this government controlled entity, with a school board of a different political party than I have maybe monitoring what my kids are doing, and inferring things about my family that they might be able to infer. But even in aggregate, the and anonymize the amount of data here is a treasure trove, and many of these companies are getting $3 $4 per student. So one can only imagine what the investor, you know, pressure would be, which is declined the ladder of value when you're sitting on all of this data. And we do see many of these companies upselling different services from basic, you know, kind of putting up the fences around the school to active moderation to intervention. But I think this is going to be a field that so long as it's under the radar, I think it's going to be a field that is really primed for questionable use of data. And many of the school districts are not prepared to ask these questions or mandate certain things, and there are fees. So we've got like technology moving a mile a minute. The amount of data that kids are creating now is just a huge amount of data. We just talked about your political party can tell you a lot about how you think about college and universities. Imagine what your teenager could tell any marketer about your family. I mean, it is incredible. And so I think we serve This one, the article, there was an article in Wired magazine that we can share, where they take a strong, you know, student monitoring, monitoring software, you know, essentially undermining privacy in school. And you know, they kind of have an arms up approach. Because when you ask parents do I want monitoring software to make sure my kids are safe? Of course, it's like probably the one thing in education everybody agrees on. And so I do think this is an interesting space. All right, well, we'll keep you updated on that and all things in ed tech. Now we're going to head to our deal space, where we'll talk a little bit about funding rounds and m&a flow out sticking away. Yeah, so we have a number of funding rounds to go through today. One is company called 10,000 coffees. It is a mentorship platform out of Toronto that worked with 200 different employers are more, they raised $56 million. This week, we have Tatio, which is a Israeli Tel Aviv based company about helping employers find workers get through a sort of unique platform where it finds workers with specific skill sets, you know, that they might not be able to find otherwise. So that's sort of a little bit of an l&d slash hiring play. We have Messiah school out of India. That's basically a sort of skilling platform that trains high school graduates in full stack web and Android application development, almost like a mobile bootcamp, they raised $5 million out to raise $5.3 million. I'm not sure I said that. We have clipboard, raising $3 million. That's an online attendance tracking system that streamlines communication for staff. So it's a communication platform and includes extracurricular activities, such as sports and field trips, I believe that's an Australian company. And lastly, they raised $3 million. And we then lastly, we have coach me plus raising a million dollars. That is a athletics training software that is used for athletes, but it's also used in by the US military to help get troops in shape for battle. So that's a basically a physical education platform. I don't know if we have any mergers or acquisitions this week, maybe we missed them. Last week was such a big m&a week, not as much going on, at least in terms of public announcements. For our listeners, if you do hear about something that's coming, please shoot outs or an email. We're always interested to get the Ed Tech Insider scoop on big deals that are happening. Well with that we're going to transition to our interview tell us about our guest, Alex. So our guest today is Joe Connor, who is the founder of Odyssey learning, which is just announcing a exciting new funding round. So we'll talk to Joe next. For our deep dive today, we're talking to Joe Connor of Odyssey. They just had a really exciting funding round for a really innovative model and we have as our guests, Interviewer today Zaza Kabita dunzo, from Joan Ganz Cooney Foundation, clicked entangled all sorts of amazing ad tech places. So Joe, give us a little bit about your background, how you got into edtech? And how you got to this idea with Odyssey? Absolutely. So I've been in education for over 13 years, in that time, I've been a teacher, a school leader started my own network of schools, and have been an attorney. And so really starting from the beginning, when I was a first and third grade teacher, I've always been focused on how can I ensure that my students, the families I'm working with have an excellent education. And so really, as I look back at my career, it was trying to scale up the impact that I had in the classroom, right. So after a few years of teaching, I felt like I was doing a competent job. My kids were proficient, they were outperforming the state standard. So at that point, I started to look into leadership roles. I was recruited to open up a charter school in California. When I was at the charter, we unfortunately got sued by teachers union to shut down the school, we ended up losing the court case. And so at that point, I had devoted a couple of years of life to my education career and decided I needed to go to law school to figure out how to open up the school. So went to law school, and my first job out of law school was at a company called AltSchool. And if you recall, they had a really ambitious plan. They wanted to revolutionize education by making software, some really cool hardware, and also writing their own network of micro schools. And so I worked in the micro school side under their general counsel. And the basic idea was how can we open up a nationwide network of micro schools as quickly as possible and so I looked into the rules and regulations in all 50 states, a few territories as well and the top 30 metro areas and came up with this really cool plan of how they could do it. Unfortunately, they pivoted it So at that point, I was left with a plan and a company that I was no longer very useful to. So I decided to go and work for a law firm at the law firm, I did a lot of things. But one of the coolest was working on an education case before the Supreme Court, we got to file a brief in the Espinosa matter which dealt with students rights to religious education, we end up winning that case, which is kind of a highlight of my legal career. And then after that, I want to jump back into the operator side. So I started a network of micro schools using a lot of the information I had learned at old school. And we started a network called school house, this was pre pandemic, pandemic hit, all of a sudden, everyone wanted a high quality in person option. So we quickly set up a few dozen schools throughout the country and continue to grow. After running that for a while, I became more interested in trying to figure out okay, a lot of our clientele is upper income or upper middle class, can we try to make sure we're scaling and serving all families who need us. And so I started running into these direct funding programs known as education savings account, or micro grants. And so that's really where the genesis of Odyssey came. And once I saw that there was a huge need for someone to be an administrator of these programs. I decided to leave school house and start my own company Odyssey. And so that kind of brings us up to today. Excellent. And so a lot of you just announced a $4.75 million seed round. Tell us about the round and some of your plans to expand. Absolutely. So today, we announced that we raised a seed round led by Katherine Boyle from Andreessen Horowitz, out of their American dynamism practice, which is a really cool portfolio of companies, they're trying to solve hard problems, and education certainly is a hard problem. And so we partnered with investors like a16z, village, global blink capital, and others, because we're really interested in being able to expand our product to other states. And so right now we are live in one state, we've helped to award over $27 million in state funding to more than 48,040 1000 or so kids. And what we're interested in is really taking our model and being able to expand to other states, hire more talent and develop the product more. So that's kind of what we intend to use the capital for, which is super exciting. Awesome. Joe, can you say a little bit more about what the Educational Savings Account is, and Miko van so my question really is how are they different from traditional vouches? Like what does the funding look like? Absolutely. It's a great question. So the way that I think about it, and this probably comes from my legal background is that education savings accounts are really a kind of more refined version of vouchers. And by that, I mean that vouchers are an idea that have been around for decades, they've been in practice for about three decades, education savings accounts are much newer, they've been in practice for about eight years, I think the original idea probably came about 10 years ago, and a policy paper. And so an education savings account is much more, I'd say user friendly, and fungible when you compare it to a voucher. And so with a voucher, if my son was on it, I could use a voucher to go to a private school, that would be about the extent of it, I can choose whatever private school I want, but it has to be a private school. With an ESA, you're not necessarily constrained by that. And so you can use the funds from an ESA to go to a private school, certainly. But you could also use it to homeschool. You can use it for online educational software. You can use it to buy hardware, if you need perhaps a Chromebook or maybe a tablet for your son or daughter. There's kind of a wide variety of services and goods you can purchase. And so I think that that's probably the biggest difference. And so when you look at vouchers and education savings accounts, there's a lot more momentum behind education savings accounts, because families are choosing alternatives that aren't just private schools, right. They're homeschooling. They're saying micro schools, learning pods, doing homeschool coops and all these variations don't fit neatly for vouchers. And so there's more policy momentum, I would say around the education savings account idea right now. When you talk about the different variations that a family can pursue with their education savings account. Does that mean that they can actually split the money and do some schooling and some homeschooling and some tech? How would that work? Yes, and I think that is probably the most exciting part of education savings accounts. Families can probably for the first time, really bundle and unbundle and re bundle a school services. And so what we're beginning to see and states have had e essays in place for a couple of years, our parents are beginning to kind of pick and choose who they want this provider so parents might opt in to go to a private school for two days a week. And then the remainder of that time is spent in a homeschool. Maybe they sign them up for some classes on out school. Maybe they go to varsity tutors online and they hire an online tutor and then they use the remainder to maybe go to an after school program like a music program. And so I think that is kind of the most exciting thing, which is one of the pandemic lessons, I think we learned was, parents want to be able to customize their education, and they want it to be useful and usable for their son or daughter. And he essays really give parents control and freedom over exactly what that looks like, because they have the funding, and they ultimately decide where it gets spent. So, you know, we started this week in edtech episode with an interesting finding about how political party is increasingly predictive of how people feel about the education system. And I have to ask, because you're working in a sort of updated, more refined version of vouchers, how do you see this playing out as a way for families to sort of opt out of public schools and instead custom make their own school? And do you think there's a political dimension to this, that certain groups are going to be particularly excited about the idea of being able to craft their own education and get away from what they consider the problems of public school. So I think one of the biggest discrepancies that I see is polarization of education among policymakers and politicians versus the actual reality on the ground. So it's very interesting when you look at polling for support of education savings accounts, is broadly supportive of the concept. And so they've pulled numerous times Republicans support it, which is no surprise independent support it, and Democrats support it. So it is one of the few, I'd say policy solutions we have, where there is support for it across party lines. And so I think that it would be better if most politicians and policymakers I think tried to focus on being responsive to parent needs, learning about what it is that they went through with the pandemic, trying to figure out the best way to support them, and looking into more policies like education, savings accounts and other things. Because I think when you talk about education at a distance, and you talk about it in kind of the way it often does get talked about in national media, it's really divorced from I think what parents and students needs are, which is they want a high quality education, they want a school that reflects their values, and community and education savings accounts really have the promise of being able to deliver that. I have just one more question. You mentioned earlier, that part of your motivation was that you wanted to see all families participate in sort of the choice to, you know, tailor make or customize their children's education. I'm curious about what you envision as the future, like, what kind of impact do you want to have? And, you know, this is like the 500 year question like, What what does the world look like when this is successful, and LISI manages to hit all its goals. So I think if Odyssey is successful, every parent in the US will be able to have more freedom and input into what their son or daughter does in the K 12 school system, which ultimately, I think will be a net positive. And so right now, we're starting with a single program in a single state. And the money that we've raised will help us to be able to expand to more states to reach more families. Right now, we're reaching about 50,000 kids, but we hope to I'd say 10x and 100x, that in the next few years. And the way that we do that is by being I'd say good partner with the government. And so we work very closely in our work with state boards of education with state treasurer's with Department of Ed. And we help them administer programs that generally are pretty complex, and would require them to hire a lot of employees to run. And so really, what we want is we want to be a good partner to them. We want to make sure we're good stewards of state money, that people when they're able to look at these programs know that the money is being well spent. And ultimately, it's about the parents, allowing parents to have freedom and choice about where their kids go to school is incredibly powerful concept. I've seen it in my own career time after time, and the schools that I've worked in. And so really, we want to be able to bring that idea to every state and every city in the country. Fantastic. And you know, careful listeners will notice that Joe mentioned outschool and varsity tutors and a number of edtech companies that are suddenly eligible or that suddenly but that are eligible for this ESA funding could be a really interesting accelerant for the entire ed tech field if there's more flexibility. Thanks so much for being here. Joe Connor Odyssey. Congratulations on the seed round. And good luck. exciting to see where this all go. Thanks so much for having me. It was great talking with you both. That's it for this week in ed tech. We've talked about the Gates Foundation's focus on math education. We talked about privacy and student freedom and versus censorship and monitoring and all of that complicated stuff. We've talked about the police Digital Divide growing and higher ed and Stanford's pivot to online Ed. Of course we talked about the metaverse and Odyssey learnings approach to learning funding. Thanks for being here with us on edtech insiders if it happens in edtech, you'll hear about it here. Thanks for listening to this episode of edtech insiders. If you liked the podcast, remember to rate it and share it with others in the tech community. For those who want even more Ed Tech Insider, subscribe to the free ed tech insiders newsletter on substack.