Posts from hacking education

CSforAll Summit

There has been a movement growing in K12 public education around the US over the last decade to get computer science into the K12 curriculum and into all schools and in front of all students. The name this movement has taken on is CSforAll and this week in Detroit Michigan, educators from all around the country are meeting to move the CSforAll effort forward. This meeting is called the CSforAll Summit.

Today is the big day and there will be a livestream of the main stage from 8:45am ET to 7pm ET. This blog post explains most of what will go on today.

I am particularly excited that Luis von Ahn, founder of our portfolio company Duolingo, will speak at the Summit about human computation, invention and entrepreneurship, and why all students need to learn computing. He goes on at 1:30pm ET.

When educators sign up to participate in the CSforAll Summit, they are asked to make a commitment to expand CS education in their schools and this year those commitments have increased as follows:

– 47mm CS learning opportunities for K-12 Students (nearly a 400 percent increase from 12mm in 2017)
– 246,000 CS educator opportunities (compared to 77,416 in 2017)

These are big numbers, both in absolute numbers and in the rate of growth. It speaks to how seriously the public education sector is taking computer science and related tech skills and the understanding that they are becoming required skills for work and adult life. I am very pleased so see this happening.

Consumer Learning

I listened to this IBM podcast with Matt Glotzbach, CEO of our portfolio company Quizlet, this morning.

Matt explains that edtech, a long-standing term for the market for software and technology sold to the education market, is fundamentally different from the newer and exciting market for consumer learning.

We agree with Matt and our approach to investing in education, a core part of our thesis 3.0, is about delivering learning tools directly to the student and bypassing the traditional education system.

That does not mean that consumer learning is in opposition to the traditional education system, though.

We see students and teachers adopting tools like Quizlet, Duolingo, Codecademy and many others to improve learning outcomes in the classroom and at home.

But consumer learning starts with the learner and is focused on serving them as the customer, not institutions, districts, schools or other “enterprises.”

I think a learner-centric model will produce better learning outcomes than an enterprise-centric model and I also think these consumer learning companies will be better businesses too.

Reinventing Education

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has announced that he plans to retire at age 54 and turn his attention back to education. He started his career as an English teacher.

It seems, from reading the piece I linked to and a few other news reports, that Jack Ma is inspired by what Bill and Melinda Gates have done.

So am I.

Bill Gates attended AFSE, a school that the Gotham Gal and I helped to start seven years ago, this spring and he wrote this recently about that experience.

Many have criticized the work that the Gates Foundation has done in education over the years.

But my view is different.

Bill and Melinda are investing, learning, evolving, and adapting their efforts.

Just like we all do in life.

Bill’s visit to AFSE showed him something he liked. He was inspired by it, wrote about it, and I suspect it will influence the way he thinks a bit.

Like Jack Ma, Bill and Melinda are relatively young and have so much capital to invest in education and their other target areas.

The impact people like Bill, Melinda, and Jack can and will have on education around the world is immense.

And we need it.

Education is provided very unevenly on planet earth.

A high-quality education is easy to come by if you are wealthy and/or live in a wealthy country.

But even in the US, a very wealthy country, we have much of our population receiving a poor or uneven education at best.

I see this in the NYC public school system where I do most of my education philanthropy.

We have 1.1 million public school students here in NYC and many of them are not getting the education they need and deserve.

The reasons for this are many and the solutions are hard.

But I see amazing things happen in the middle of this mess and I know that we can help more kids get a better education and we are doing that.

Reinventing education requires not just working inside the established systems, it means working outside of them and ultimately rethinking them and replacing them.

But all of this has to happen in parallel. We cannot let the existing systems falter and fail our children while we are busy finding better ways.

At USV, we have a number of exciting portfolio companies that are rethinking how education should work. Companies like DuoLingo, Quizlet, Codecademy, Skillshare, and Top Hat.

Part of the answer is backing entrepreneurs like the ones behind these companies to come up with better, less expensive, and more available education solutions for our globe.

And part of the answer is changing the way employers think about education. At USV, we do not require any sort of degree to work for us. But we require skills, knowledge, and curiosity. Many larger companies are starting to do the same.

The internet and technology writ large are making it a lot easier for someone to learn something. But we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Twenty-five years after the emergence of the web browser and the commercial internet, education still works largely like it did back then.

That is going to change, is changing, and I am very excited for it to happen.

And I am happy that massively successful people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Jack Ma are focusing their capital and productive energy in this area.

I am too.

The Long Raise

I’ve been chairing a $40 million capital campaign for NYC’s CS4All effort to bring computer science education to every school and every student in the nation’s largest school district.

We are just into year four of the ten-year CS4All effort and we are also into year four of the capital campaign.

The good news is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on whether you count “soft circles” or not, I think we have about $10 million left to raise.

We started out with a bang, announcing $11.5mm in contributions, including those of my wife and me, at the start of the effort.

Year one went well, with another roughly eight million raised.

Year two was a struggle and year three started out similarly. We made some changes to our team and strategy and message and the second half of year three was much better and we are entering year four with great momentum.

I have learned a lot about running a capital campaign or any sort of large and long fundraising effort and I thought I would share some of the big lessons:

1/ You have to be patient. It is a marathon, not a sprint. No matter how much you want it to go quickly, it won’t.

2/ Cultivation is the name of the game. You have to work the top prospects slowly and carefully and patiently. Most eventually come through but you need to invest a lot of time and effort without any certainty of closure. I found this particularly hard as I always want to be investing my time where it is going to pay off.

3/ You need people around you who are experienced fundraisers. There is an art AND a science to qualifying, presenting, and following up that the best people in the fundraising business understand and bring to their work. Without that, you are going to flounder.

4/ Communicating and engaging your donors is critical. I thought a donor would write one check and be done. It turns out many donors like to start small and grow their committment over time as they see progress and get comfortable with the effort.

It turns out that raising a big sum of money is like a lot of other things in business and life. Slow and steady is a virtue, great people make all of the difference, your best prospects are the people you have already closed, and frequent communication fixes a lot of problems.

I think all of these lessons I have learned in the last three years are applicable to raising capital for your business. Fundraising is a process not a campaign and it needs to be part of a CEO’s daily cadence and calendar.

You are never not raising money when you are running a company or any sort of business endeavor that requires capital, which is basically everything.

The Scratch Effect

Last night the Gotham Gal and I attended the annual benefit for the Scratch Foundation which provides financial support to the Scratch programming language and learning environment.

Mitch Resnick, founder of Scratch and leader of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab (I love that name so much I had to find a way to get it into this post), shared some numbers with the attendees last night:

In the last year, over 200 million people have used Scratch to make something, share something, or learn something.

I realize that not everyone who uses Scratch is a child, but the vast majority of them are.

There are roughly 2bn children on planet earth, so that means roughly 10% of our children used Scratch last year.

Think about that.

At our table, there were four high school students who I had invited to join us at the event. Two of them are ninth graders, just starting to learn to code and they are learning with Scratch. Two of them are seniors, experienced programmers who are experts in Java and a number of other languages. Four years ago, they learned to code on Scratch.

Scratch is the one ramp to learning to code. There really isn’t anything better to engage, excite, and inspire children to code something up and share it with the world.

And, right now, in 2018, 10% of our children are using it. I am confident that in a few years that number will be 30-50%, and I pray that some day it will be 100%.

FINOS

In December I wrote about the Symphony Software Foundation as it was launching the NYC Open Source Fintech Meetup.

Yesterday the foundation announced a new name: FINOS.

FINOS is about supporting open source software efforts across the financial services industry.

Financial services has often lagged other industries in adopting open source software related development practices, but that situation is changing quickly. Quantitative trading firms like Jane Street have built entire businesses based on open source. And perhaps there is no better example of the degree to which open source is impacting financial services (and other industries of course) than bitcoin, ethereum, and other crypto projects.

FINOS Executive Director, Gabriele Columbro, described the FINOS mission as follows:

In the industries where open source has succeeded, independent entities such as foundations and trade organizations have played a critical role in fostering success. They have facilitated cooperation among players (often hard to do between fierce rivals) and encouraged dialogues necessary to solving common problems. This is precisely the role FINOS is playing in financial services.

Many of FINOS’ members are large global finance and tech companies such as Goldman Sachs, UBS, JP Morgan, GitHub, Thomson Reuters, and Red Hat. The accelerating adoption of open source in fintech is important not just for major financial institutions but also for emerging startups and younger companies looking to service incumbents or compete against them (or both). Examples among FINOS members include OpenFin and NodeSource.

Because financial services has always had an oversized impact on tech here in NYC, this is likely a huge boost to the NYC open source ecosystem too.

If you’re working in fintech I encourage you to get engaged with some of FINOS’ programs, either by just evaluating and checking out some of the work, or by getting actively involved by contributing code to a working group. If you’d like to hear more about FINOS and its work, you may want to attend their FinTech in Open Source Event Series this evening at 6:30pm where Gabriele Columbro will be interviewed by Spencer Mindlin of the Aite Group.

Finally, fintech is no different than any other “tech” sector in that we need more women, people of color, and other traditionally underrepresented communities at the table. The transparency and contribution models of open source projects can be a great on-ramp for anyone interested in a particular technology or problem domain. Together with K-12 CS education for all, open source can increase access to careers and opportunities historically all but closed to large segments of our society.

Video Of The Week: Computer Science Education For All

I heard the news last night that the $6mm that Governor Cuomo was seeking for K12 CS Education was not included in the final NY State budget. I had blogged about this issue at the start of this week.

UPDATE: It appears I heard wrong and that the $6mm did make it into the budget. If that is the case, then it is great news.

In this short (50 sec) video, NYC Mayor de Blasio explains why this is so important. We need more leaders like him who will put themselves out there on this issue, make it a priority, and fight for it.

K12 Computer Science Education In NY State

While NYC is committed, and well on its way, to getting computer science teachers in every school in NYC by 2025, the situation across New York State is bleaker.

Many schools in New York State do not have computer science teachers and do not offer computer science courses to their students.

Governor Cuomo recognized this shortfall in his 2019 budget by proposing $6mm of funding for computer science education across New York State.

But neither the NYS Assembly nor the NYS Senate has followed through and included this $6mm (or a single dollar) in their proposed 2019 budgets for CS education.

The budget process is scheduled to close on April 1st, so this week is the week to get movement on this.

If you live in New York State, please reach out to your Assemblyperson and/or Senator and tell them how important computer science education is to you and why you want them to follow the Governor’s leadership on this issue and put $6mm in the 2019 budget for Computer Science education in New York State schools. If you don’t know how to reach your representatives in Albany, click on the two links in the opening paragraph in this post.

To put that $6mm in context, New York City is spending $8mm a year on training existing teachers (math, science, etc) to teach computer science. And they are doing this every year for ten years in order to get over 5,000 CS teachers in their ~1,700 public schools.

Surely New York State can do the same. Every kid needs the opportunity to learn new ways of learning, making, and earning. Computer Science is the first new subject that has been added to most public schools’ curriculum in the past fifty years. Most states and large urban centers have already committed themselves to this effort. But not New York State. It’s time that changed.