Max Ventilla is not a product of the American public school system. His academic career is a path from private elementary school to boarding school to Yale, and he credits that early start in alternate education for his professional success. And he is successful. Google bought his early social media company, Aardvark, for $50 million in 2010, and kept him in charge of ‘personalization,’ the background programming that links your searches, your email, and your browsing habits into a single profile.
Only two years of that and he was ready to move on and apply that experience elsewhere. His itchy feet happened to coincide with the early days of searching for the right school for his daughter, then two years old. He disliked the traditional preschool and elementary options he was finding. A one-size-fits-all curriculum, he felt, is outdated.
“The primary purpose of schools is to prepare children for the future,” Ventilla says. “So for schools to be so behind the times is not just an ancillary problem, it’s a primary failing.”
With the help of $133 million in investments from the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Ventilla opened AltSchool. In 2013, it was 15 students, three teachers, and a single classroom. Only two years later, it will have 400 students in eight schools in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Every classroom is a treasure trove of the latest tech. Cameras and microphones watch everything, gathering data to help improve the quality of education. Students access their assignment ‘playlists’ by smartphone. And with every assignment, data is gathered to more closely tailor each child’s education to their interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
It’s too early yet to evaluate AltSchool’s long-term effectiveness. Ventilla built the company with the intent for it to grow and grow, but with a $20,000 a year price-tag, the cost of your average four-year university, it will never be accessible to most of the population, let alone mainstream.
What do you think of AltSchool? Let us know in the comments section below!