Max Ventilla

CEO Altschool

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 21, 2015

Discussion

ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
Hey all, I'm Max. I founded of AltSchool after running the cross-Google personalization team. I'm driven by creating the most personalized school experience for my own two young kids with an approach that can scale to empower all kids. I have been building companies since the late 1990s and feel incredibly lucky to be in Silicon Valley at a time when we can use technology to truly reshape our world. I'm looking forward to your questions about any topic... The last 7 books I've read are The Martian, Seven Eves, Flash Boys, Super Intelligence, No-Drama Discipline, Lightless, and Sapiens.
Hang Zhao@sgzhaohang
Hi Max, I'm interested to know how do you see the future of education industry in 5-10 years and how do you compare online vs offline for education.
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@sgzhaohang The truth is that things move very slowly in the education space. Even in 10 years, I would expect that the majority of American schools will look pretty similar to today. I hope that by then we will at least have working broadband internet and wi-fi in essentially all schools. On that backbone, I hope that we will see learning materials that represent increasingly more than a textbook transplanted to a screen. When I look 15 to 20 years out, I think we have the potential for greater transformation in the education space. Students in that era should be able to really pursue a personalized education that better bridges what they are doing in the classroom with what they are interested in (and how they learn) outside of the classroom.
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
Hi Max! Really love what you're doing in the education space with Alt School. As a college student who used to work at a K-7 summer camp, have thought a lot about education from the early stages all the way through college. Most people say that building in education is one of the most difficult spaces period. What are the top 3 things that are on your mind right now that we as a community can do to support your amazing cause? Best, Sydney
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@sydney_liu_sl Our success is entirely dependent on attracting great talent (educators, engineers, and operators primarily); so that's the number 1 thing by far. #2, We are growing quickly so it's critical for us to get the word out to families that are looking for a school like AltSchool for their kids. #3, For our sake and the sake of the broader education sector, it's essential that politicians make improving education a top priority. I went to a panel yesterday where Arne Duncan made the point that we can't continue to let it be ok for our representatives in government to preside over schools that they wouldn't want to send their own kids to. It's our role as citizens to keep pressure on the people we elect and consider for election.
Chandra Kalle@chandrakalle · Maker @orangecaffeine.com
Can a tablet replace a physical school as the primary means of delivering education?
Alphonso Morris@youngfonz · Sr. Visual Designer
@chandrakalle GREAT QUESTIONNNN!!!!
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@chandrakalle If you ask parents how much time they want their kids learning in front of a screen, they will pretty much always answer "as little as possible." On screen learning as a substitute for school is a hack to personalize learning in a rigorous and transparent way. Said differently, I think that until we have general AI, a computer can never adequately substitute for the relationship driven, real-world learning that takes place in a great classroom. That said, as we look to VR and AR; as we look to being able to connect to experts from anywhere and access great content on any topic that is available at the level and pace of learning appropriate for a child -- there's enormous potential to lift the baseline of learning opportunities available and to complement what a professional teacher can provide to students on their own.
Alphonso Morris@youngfonz · Sr. Visual Designer
@ventilla @chandrakalle When you think of teaching kids in a remote part of the world or even in urban America it might be easier to get screens there than actual teachers. Logistics may end up being a contributing factor as well.
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@youngfonz @chandrakalle That's part of what I mean about raising the baseline of quality that any child can experience in their elementary education.
Soliman@solimanedu · Copywriter. I really do love words.
Hi Max. Love what you're doing and the amazing mission you believe in. I think it's time to redefine what education is especially for younger generations. I also believe these kids are lucky to find someone to teach them critical thinking and reasoning skills at such an early age. My question is: when you started Altschool, what was your customer acquisition strategy like? I'm curious because I'd imagine it was hard to convince parents to pay such tuition fees for such an unorthodox school. How did you manage to do that?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@solimanedu When we started in the summer of 2013, we were looking for a dozen or so families to join a pilot program that started that Fall. As such, we weren't appealing to parents in the normal admissions cycle. All the parents who became interested had an alternate school option that they ultimately were less satisfied with than being part of AltSchool. As to what drove the appeal for AltSchool, we started with a totally unsustainable level of support that first year behind incredibly talented, child-centered educators. That alone, made the program worthy of consideration to a lot of people that we attracted through online ads. Ultimately, there were a lot of families who were looking to be more involved in defining the school experience for their children and we gave the opportunity to do just that.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Max, it's great to have you here! You've packed a lot of professional accomplishments into your young life. Thus far, which 2-3 have most profoundly changed you and how you think about the world?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@melissajoykong We tend to only learn by doing or by seeing someone else doing. To that end, starting companies in the late 90s and then again in the late 2000s provided an invaluable learning experience for me. Equally important though was getting to work very closely with two CEOs (John MacBain of Trader Classified Media in my 20s and then Larry Page in my 30s) that represented the kind of leader that I hoped to become.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Education is considered by many to being the critical key to a better future world. But there are currently so many things broken about the American education system. (1) What do you think is the most deleterious thing about the current way of teaching kids that you're hoping to solve with AltSchool? (2) What are a few things parents can do to nurture their children's development if they don't have the ability or access to send their kids to a place like AltSchool?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@melissajoykong 1) I think the increasing segregation of our public and private schools is the most destructive trend in education today. I also think the lack of public pressure on policy makers to improve education (measured by long term life outcomes not just test scores) creates an absence of incentives for the people in power to actually invest in our future educational performance. 2) Reading to your children all the time and celebrating your children's efforts (not outcomes) are the two of the biggest things a parent can do. Also, systematically working on social emotional learning (grit, perseverance, optimism, curiosity...) is fundamentally important. Recognizing that your behavior sets the primary example for your young children is key alongside finding ways to spend consistent quality time. Related to some of these topics, I've found the book No Drama Discipline to be totally game changing for my perspective as a parent.
Kathy Sacks@kathysacks · Fearless Ventures
@ventilla @melissajoykong You'll love Positive Discpline also to be gamechanging.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
This is such a thoughtful, useful response. Thanks so much, @ventilla!
Alphonso Morris@youngfonz · Sr. Visual Designer
Hey Max with prices like this "Monthly tuition is $2890 for Lower School and $2970 for Middle School, with a 10-month minimum per year. " I think we know who can afford this. Don't you think the underprivileged and impoverished need better schools not the 1%?
Kyra Deprez@kyradeprez
@youngfonz Great question. I see the struggles of a Title 1 school on a daily basis and would like to see education for all not just the 1%.
Alphonso Morris@youngfonz · Sr. Visual Designer
@kyradeprez @ventilla are you going to answer this question?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@youngfonz I think that we need better schools and better school models across the spectrum of American education. We want to create a model that can scale to huge numbers of students but we want to be able to break with the model of the last 100 years. Private schools were a much easier place for us to start than public schools. Also, we are focused on building technology products that could have broad usage and to do that we needed to raise venture capital to pay our engineers. To do that, we needed to be a for profit, albeit a mission driven B-corp. For-profit companies running public schools are not very welcome in the broader ecosystem so that seemed like a bad place to start. We have built 7 schools in the last 2.5 years and learned an enormous amount about how we might contribute to the broader space. I think we would still be working on our first public school if we started there but we are working on this for the very long term (like decades) and look to be judged on that timescale. Finally, not to be defensive, but the solutions to the huge problems we have in education need to come from many places. Saying that someone is ignorant to the issues of the privileged as a knee jerk response actually keeps a lot of people from innovating in comparably easier parts of the education space which, in the long run, cuts off major avenues for progress.
Alejo Rivera@alejoriveralara
Hi Max! I'm a Software Developer and Head of school at an alternative school in Houston. I think I have great software that other schools could start using, but it's been hard to reach beyond my personal network. What would be your advise for reaching alternative schools all over the US, and in the world in general?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@alejoriveralara Right now there's enormous fragmentation in the education space and any kind of top down distribution of education software is practically impossible for smaller players to accomplish. That leaves using the natural virality of educators as the primary resort. When you look at successful software products in the ed space (like EdModo, Clever, Remind101, ClassDojo), they all spread largely by word of mouth and educators familiar with the product going to new schools and telling others. To aid in that discovery, there are also some directories of available products (like https://www.graphite.org/) that can be essential to help people finding you.
Alejo Rivera@alejoriveralara
And a more philosophical question – What do you think is the purpose of education?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@alejoriveralara I think that education is a basic human right first and foremost. I also think that education is a very high ROI avenue for countries and individual families. In other contexts (like worker retraining), I think that education can function as a very necessary form of insurance. That's my way of saying that there isn't a single easy answer for how we should think of education from a policy standpoint. That said, from every angle, it seems like we aren't focusing nearly enough on education as a national priority.
Arjun Sarode@rjun07a
Hey Max! What benchmarks do you use besides MAP tests to determine how effective AltSchool's teaching is? I've found that getting hard data on student learning can be pretty difficult.
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@rjun07a Probably the most important measure of success for us is the monthly detailed satisfaction data that we get from students, parents, and educators at AltSchool. On standards based progress, we aggregate many different measures together in something we call Learning Progression: standardized tests, formative assessments, in-line assessments from teachers related to daily student work, student reflection, 3rd party data (from providers like Khan)...
Arjun Sarode@rjun07a
@ventilla Sweet! Thanks for the insight. Follow up question: Is your standards-based progress data open for the public to see? Are your curricula open for other teachers to view? The info you're learning about a different approach to teaching could be useful for other teachers too.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Hi Max, thanks for joining us today! I think Alt School is fascinating and I'm really excited to see what happens, since education is so broken and fixing it transcends literally all other aspects of society. I have a few questions; feel free to answer any that you find interesting: 1. What is the single most broken aspect of education right now? 2. To scale the benefits of Alt School to all children, it seems like public schools would need to be able model its methods. Do you have any specific ideas around this first items that you hope to have public schools model? 3. How important of an obstacle is wealth inequality and instability (low income neighborhoods) for equitable education? How can this best be addressed? 4. What are your thoughts on the K-12 educational system in Finland and what do you think, if anything, are the most important practices that should be adopted in the US? 5. Will affecting large scale change also require regulatory changes? If so, which ones are the most important and why? 6. What are you thoughts on charter schools? 7. Is Sal Khan creating an education lab to test and model similar things as Alt School? Are you partnering with him on anything? 8. In your opinion, does education need to be privatized to be successfully disrupted for the better? 9. How important is the role of technology is fixing K-12 education? Is it more important than giving children confidence and motivation? 10. Do you think coding should be a core curriculum item, like math or science, and should it be taught as early as elementary school? Thanks!!
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@alexcartaz Here's what I wrote about 1) above... I think the increasing segregation of our public and private schools is the most destructive trend in education today. I also think the lack of public pressure on policy makers to improve education (measured by long term life outcomes not just test scores) creates an absence of incentives for the people in power to actually invest in our future educational performance. 2) I'm not exactly sure about your question but I think you are asking what needs to be in a public school model... I'd say that we chiefly need to bring down the cost, bring down the requirements for educator experience, and bring up the quantifiable boosts to standards based progress that we can provide. We also need to create a model of independent operators running schools that are powered but not run by AltSchool. 3) As per my answer to #1, I think the segregation of our neighborhoods directly causing segregation of our schools is the biggest problem in American education. We need ways to desegregate schools (from better transportation options, to smaller schools that are more abundant, to better schools that maintain an open lottery enrollment). 4) I think Finland provides a small scale example of how quickly you can turnaround a significantly sized school system by increasing autonomy of teachers and schools, creating a 21st century work environment for educators (more planning time, more generally applicable skills, better career development), and engaging communities. 5) Absolutely. We need different measures of how schools are judged successful (more satisfaction and life outcome driven). We need more agency on longer timelines for the people responsible for schools (the replacement rate of school superintendents makes meaningful change practically impossible in much of America). We need more cooperation between policy makers, administrators, and unions on what resources schools get and how student interests are placed above institutional interests. In many areas (like California) we also need to stop underfunding schools or (like New Jersey) take a hard look at how little of every dollar is spent in the actual classroom where it matters most. We need to make it easier for people to start novel schools that have high satisfaction and drive a better responsiveness from city government about the safety, housing, transportation, and building department related needs of schools. Many of these things come down to voters making clear that education issues matter to them.
sam@greaterthan1000 · Assistant Principal. Father of twins.
@ventilla What is your opinion on restorative based practices for school discipline? If you do not have one, what is your philosophy on school discipline and consequences for students? Thanks!
Maria L. Favata@maria_l_favata
@ventilla What is the one thing parents most worry about when looking at AltSchool vs. public schools?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@maria_l_favata Some worry that a progressive, child-centered school like AltSchool may not prepare their kids for a traditional school in the high school years and beyond. We see that a child will be well served in any future setting by an education that enables them to know themselves and advocate for themselves while providing the key academic, social, and character foundation for them to shape the world around them.
mike lin@mikelinsf · Founder & CEO, influencersTV
How similar/different was building Alt School to building internet products?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@mikelinsf AltSchool is less about a specific approach to education and more about creating an ecosystem to engender continuous user-driven improvement. In that sense, AltSchool is like great Internet companies in the shared belief that quality comes from technology-enabled iterative improvement. Like a great Internet company, AltSchool strives to bring together rockstar cross-functional teams that are empowered to make changes to the status-quo. That said, day to day, running schools couldn't be much more different than delivering an Internet product. We have a much closer relationship with our users but a much greater degree of constraints than a company producing a digital good. We have many more external dependencies (in terms of city government, or contractors, or vendors) than a typical Internet company in terms of providing our basic product. We have more cyclicality and a much longer timeline for success but also a much larger opportunity for impact and value creation than a typical Internet company. All in all, it often feels like we have traded everything that was hard in an Internet realm for relative ease and vice-versa.
As someone just launching an alternative input device for mobiles, what features of standard keyboards is missing from touch screen input.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
What do you think has been the key defining moment in driving the success of AltSchool? Was there anything about the fundraising process that surprised you?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@harrystebbings I was very pleasantly surprised at funders' willingness (especially at FoundersFund) to make a really big bet that transformation of the education space is possible today. In this last round, I was very pleasantly surprised at our ability to bring venture capital together with more mission driven capital (like Emerson or Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan). I think a defining, non-fundraising event for the company was our successful recruitment of a dozen families together for our first pilot year. We almost didn't get our Dogpatch school off the ground in the few short months we gave ourselves and the fact that we did set us on a completely different trajectory.
Yoshi@dnxx28 · Student
Hi Max! I'm Japanese. However Japan education is not keeping up with other countries. So I concern about launching moving library by preparing books which children need or not. To launching it , I think it's better if children have favorite my service at least. Why dont you give some advises?
Alphonso Morris@youngfonz · Sr. Visual Designer
How does this differ from a traditional charter school or lets say a Khan Academy?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@youngfonz We are a network of private schools for the time being with very significant engineering resources to build technologies for our own schools. We ultimately want the same thing as a charter school or Khan, to scale transformatively better education, but we are starting in a very different place. Khan Academy is primarily a content provider (that we use to great effect in our schools btw) and charter schools are generally much larger, more traditional, and more top down than our teacher led micro-schools (~100 kids per site).
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey Max - what would the you of 4 years ago think of the you of today?
ventilla@ventilla · CEO, AltSchool, PBC
@bentossell He'd be surprised that I went to work every day in a school. Other than that, he'd be little surprised that I'm as happy of a husband and father as I am. He'd be sad to see the aging bones and muscles of mid 30s Max though.