Altschool, a San Francisco Bay area startup founded by former Google product manager, Max Ventilla, is an innovative new school system that combines advanced technology with traditional education. AltSchool’s “micro-schools” are modeled after the one-room schoolhouses of the past. Students aged from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade learn together in classrooms with no more than 25 students and two teachers each.
For a tuition of around $20,000, students study a curriculum focused on project-based learning and real-world lessons. “The point of education is to prepare our kids for the world that they’re going to actually experience as adults,” Ventilla explained. Students go on weekly field trips and complete activities like designing irrigation systems and building drones.
Micro-schools have no principals or other administrators, but instead use technology to connect teachers with students and parents. Engineers and software developers work closely with teachers in their classrooms to constantly improve the AltSchool platform. “All engineers have ‘buddy teachers’ and study what’s going on in the classroom so they can learn about what’s most effective,” said Director of Education, Carolyn Wilson. “It lets us iterate very quickly and improve very, very quickly and validate for others that this is actually an approach that can work,” said Ventilla.
Students use Chromebooks and iPads to access their personalized education “playlists,” which contain their individual assignments and goals. Teachers also use AltSchool’s platform to send messages to parents and observe the students through video and audio recording.
AltSchool is currently developing wearable technology that will help protect students and expand classrooms by allowing students and teachers to roam freely through cities. “With rises in school shootings and violence, the U.S. is moving towards a future where campuses feel less school-like and more prison like,” said Head of Safety, Michael Ginty. “Designed right, technology can enable security measures to remain nearly invisible to students and teachers, while providing parents much-needed peace of mind.”
Ginty, formerly Head of Global Security at Uber Technologies, recently joined AltSchool along with other Silicon Valley veterans, like former Vice President of Rocket Fuel, Sue Yoon; former Director of Product and General Manager of Zynga, Rajiv Bhatia; and former Google engineer, Bharat Mediratta. “Education is one of the fundamental ways to improve humanity, and AltSchool is tapping into the very real possibility of using technology to change the future,” said Mediratta.
2,200 teachers recently applied for the 20 available positions at AltSchool’s main campus, and 677 students applied for the 150-200 available classroom seats. In order to meet the high demand, AltSchool is planning to open two new schools in Palo Alto and Brooklyn for launch in the 2015-2016 school year, putting their $33 million in funds raised by Silicon Valley venture capitalists to good use.
Ventilla hopes to eventually share AltSchool’s software with private and charter schools, as well as public school systems. “Being behind the times as a school is a kind of fundamental failing,” he remarked. “We should actually have schools that are ahead of the times.”