AltSchool shift raises concerns of profits placed over educational promise
- The announcement by Silicon Valley personalized learning startup AltSchool that it will close two of its lab school campuses in Palo Alto and New York City has some educators concerned that the company is putting profits over efforts to improve education, EdSurge reports.
- AltSchool plans to help students from the closed locations find placement in its other schools or local schools in their area, but EdSurge notes that educators have also said the company's plans to sell their platform at a fee of $150 to $500 per student per year is beyond what would be affordable for most public schools.
- Butler Middle School (PA) Principal Jason Huffman also told the publication that he sees the company's struggles as parallel to those of other education reform models that didn't live up to their promises, adding that organizations like Future Ready have made similar models and platforms for personalization available at a lower cost to schools and districts.
The commingling of for-profit interests and education has long left many in the field uneasy. Education historian Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, has been among the chief critics of these increasingly close ties, especially as it pertains to charter schools and voucher programs, decrying efforts to "turn us from citizens into consumers." Public schools, she has said, should be focused around "building a sense of community, having a sense of democracy at the local level, having people from different backgrounds coming together to solve problems and learn how to be citizens.”
But AltSchool's intentions with its lab schools and approach to developing its platform have seemed noble enough, with the company partnering with schools of varying sizes to learn how to best scale up successful approaches to personalized learning for traditional public schools. Its lab schools have been noted for eschewing traditional grade level structures and curriculum, attracting funding from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.
Earlier this year, we visited one of the company's partner schools — Berthold Academy, a Montessori in Reston, VA — to find out more about what AltSchool was looking to model and how its partnerships worked, finding a promising approach in action. How the pivot impacts the potential "network effect" of the partnerships and collaboration between those schools and the company's remaining lab schools will be interesting to keep an eye on.
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