When Silicon Valley Takes on Elementary School

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An AltSchool classroom in Brooklyn hard at work.

"We have an opportunity to do what we want - choose our path instead of the teachers making a choice for us." 

Meet Piper, a blond, freckled 9-year-old from Brooklyn who talks like a seasoned grownup. She used to go to public school with Manoush's son but now - with the help of financial aid - she's enrolled in a new experimental school in her neighborhood: AltSchool.

AltSchool is not your typical private school. Its founder is Max Ventilla, a former Google executive with a vision to reform education. Ventilla's company, with over 100 million dollars from investors like Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreesen, uses tech to teach and track students' social and academic skills. Ventilla's idea is that over time, that data can build a more thorough picture of each student and determine how she is taught. This method of "personalized learning" (think Montessori 2.0) is being prototyped in eight "micro-schools" in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and New York City, with the goal of applying it to schools everywhere. Manoush went to visit one in Brooklyn.

NPR's education reporter Anya Kamanetz is skeptical of Ventilla's goal to optimize education for the masses, and she's concerned about Silicon Valley's foray into education. "They have a giant promise, which is that the right software system, the right operating system, is going to transform teaching and learning... and, what it ultimately means is that they have shareholders to satisfy."

This week: can a tech startup engineer a better system for learning everywhere and make money doing it? And would these two tech reporters/mothers send their own kids there?

There are a lot of buzzwords in education technology — including the phrase "education technology!" We've rounded up some of the most common in this list. Consult it as you and your kids face more tech in the classroom. 

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