Q&A with Education Technology Entrepreneur John Danner

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Last week we brought you the announcement of John Danner stepping down as CEO of Rocketship Education. EdSurge's Kris Hattori followed up with the serial entrepreneur to squeeze out some more details on his next edtech idea.

Why the decision to transition out of Rocketship and start a new venture? What's compelling you to take matters into your own hands?

JD: I realized over the last six months that Rocketship has a different theory of learning than most schools. We're believers in student-centered learning. Instead of handing stuff down to them, we have to know what a child knows and doesn't know and figure out what they need to learn. Then we can make assessment plans and tutor them properly. Our frustration with using certain products is that, by and large, companies can't align their lessons with the information that Rocketship has. We've tried our best to evangelize student-centered learning--our state results prove it works.

I think it's time to actually show what a system that starts with the student first, as opposed to the content, can do. We're coming into the age of the algorithm. In the past we had snazzy content, but now we're asking: How much did the student actually learn?

Tell me a little bit about the new project...

This is all about figuring out how to get the right questions to students based on the data we have. Teachers will be the content creators--they are the experts and will be best at diagnosing errors and doing interventions. We're going to have a prototype out next week. I'll still be working closely with Rocketship and will start the pilot by getting a single teacher up and running. We expect that will take a full month to figure out how she uses it and how other teachers will use it. We aren't going to charge schools or teachers--students and parents will be the customer and, no, it won't be easy to monetize.

Does the new company/product have a name?

(Laughs) Let's just call it John's New Edtech Company.

(Laughs) I like that, you should keep it. Where is the funding coming from for John's New Edtech Company? Any plans to look for investors?

It's self-funded for the time being and there are two reasons for that: First is "Because I can." Second, I don't really know what's going to work and what's not going to work. I want to have maximum flexibility in making decisions and you just can't have that once someone invests in you.

You visited India recently. Did that affect how you view edtech and education?

When you travel around the world you realize that kids are basically kids--wherever they're from. They had a set of things they need to learn and they learn it through similar styles. It's true that the context is different, but the problem of learning is global. if you build great learning algorithms, there's no reason that they shouldn't be applicable to kids around the world.

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