Realizing Impact: Education

By Chris Wu and Roger Liew

One of the best things about impact venture capital investing is that while you can wait several years or more to realize financial returns, impact returns are realized as soon as you have customers and efficacy. We love to watch our portfolio’s impact evolve and improve.

For several of our education investments, we developed impact theses from research around this trend of personalized learning. We track new research and data as it becomes available in order to update and refine impact measurement and reporting. Two of the companies in our portfolio that enable personalized learning, ThinkCERCA and BookNook, have recently received some stellar evidence of the impact their services offer to students. And a third, GlimpseK12, suggests a new model to evaluate educational outcomes.

ThinkCERCA was adopted district-wide in Bibb County, GA to address stagnating scores amongst 7th graders on the GA Milestones literacy assessment. After a year with ThinkCERCA, the same cohort that reported 1.2 points of improvement showed a 17 point gain the following year. Consistent with our impact thesis that ThinkCERCA can help close the achievement gap for minorities and the economically disadvantaged, 99% of Bibb County students are eligible for free/reduced meals. In Youngstown County School District in Ohio, students that received five or more units of ThinkCERCA instruction doubled their rates of growth on the NWEA map test.

Figure 1. Change in English Language Assessment (ELA) Scores at Bibb County School District before and after using ThinkCERCA

A tool for early readers, BookNook recently released the results of a sponsored statistical study performed at Brown University which showed very strong positive effects equivalent to a letter grade improvement from using BookNook. Once again the students from the study who benefited the most were economically disadvantaged. They often started out behind the students who were not using BookNook, thus indicating the tool’s potential to help close the achievement gap.

One of the more recent additions to our portfolio, GlimpseK12, is focused on simplifying the decision-making process for school districts investing in educational interventions. Adam Pearson, one of the Glimpse co-founders, just published an article that makes the case for schools to adopt an Achievement-Based Budgeting (ABB) approach so that investments are made with actual outcomes in mind. As more school districts shift towards an ABB process, it will enable Glimpse to publish case studies, just like ThinkCERCA and BookNook have, based on the results clients have experienced while using their education ROI platform. Receiving this data about the impact of their services would allow us to repeat this process with Glimpse; to revisit their impact thesis and update their impact measurements and reporting accordingly.

The results of these studies indicate that both BookNook and ThinkCERCA are effective literacy tools that add real value to student learning, as demonstrated by the students’ growth and performance. Glimpse’s tools can bring more visibility to the effects of these tools and ultimately more accountability.

We are excited to see the positive impact that our portfolio companies are having in the edtech space, and we welcome your thoughts. We will continue to measure and share our portfolio’s realized impact as we grow!


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