Leadership Public Schools (LPS), a charter school organization that runs high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, has teamed up with Gooru, a nonprofit educational tech company, to develop technology to support the schools’ personalized learning model and improve student outcomes.
Both organizations were trying to find better ways to expand their personalized learning plans, according to Thomas Arnett of the Christensen Institute.
LPS was founded in 2002 and serves approximately 1,500 students, most of whom are from low-income backgrounds.
LPS had developed a successful model, but found it difficult to scale beyond the original pilot classrooms. Gooru, on the other hand, had created a platform that was not adequately addressing teachers’ needs. Together, they redesigned Gooru’s technology to align with the LPS model.
Louise Waters, the CEO of LPS, and Prasad Ram, the CEO and founder of Gooru, began meeting for breakfast in September of 2013. A mutual friend introduced them in the hopes that they could work together to solve their problems.
LPS faced a challenge: many of their students were below grade-level in math. They began by creating a course called Academic Numeracy that ninth-graders would take alongside Algebra. However, this was not helping the most advanced learners nor those who were the furthest behind, so math teacher Michael Fauteux began offering after-school sessions with game-like elements, in which they completed activities called “missions” and monitored their own progress. He then implemented “Learning Lists” on Google Sheets to digitize the data.
The system was effective and other schools wanted in, but they had trouble scaling a spreadsheet to go beyond pilot classrooms.
Gooru’s platform was like a search engine that allowed teachers to curate and share collections of educational resources on particular topics, but teachers were having trouble integrating these collections into the classroom, which limited the impact on students.
In 2014, they received grants for the project and solidified their partnership.
The companies say that four elements guided their partnership: teaching practices influenced the technology rather than the other way around, they used intensive collaboration, design assumptions were tested in classrooms, and both organizations had business models that prioritized the partnership.
In the words of Amara Humphry, Gooru’s co-founder:
“When you design you make a lot of assumptions. Because we’re not teachers, every single thing we draw into our designs is an assumption. After you make those assumptions, you can go validate them with a group of users. But it is a lot easier to just ask someone who has the answers.”
Now the two companies are working to scale their creations for other schools.
As Arnett notes in the conclusion to his paper on the creation process of the partnership:
“LPS and Gooru’s story presents an interesting variation on the theme of so-called “build versus buy” decisions facing innovative school systems. Their example suggests that when a school system finds building technology to be infeasible and buying off-the-shelf technology to be impractical, a viable third-way approach is to partner with a technology developer. Furthermore, their partnership lends a number of important insights regarding the circumstances required for a successful partnership.”