This just hot off the press: Newsela announced a $1.2 million seed round led by NewSchools Venture Fund, with participation from Kapor Capital, Kaplan Ventures and Silicon Badia. Angels include Joannie Fischer & David Fischer, Brigette Lau (Partner at Social+Capital), Zac Zeitlin, Jennifer Coogan & Issac Taylor, and Walter Winshall.
The New York-based startup takes daily articles from several dozen news publications and rewrites them at different Lexile levels that correspond to 3rd to 12th grade reading levels. Partner media outlets currently include the Associated Press, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald and other McClatchy publications.
Creating this content involves a mix of technology and old-fashioned manual labor. Newsela's team of freelance journalists upload selected articles on Newsela's proprietary editing tool, which offers suggestions on how to rewrite the original piece at five different levels of complexity.
In addition to news articles, there are also quizzes on the leveled content. Students who struggle or excel are encouraged to change levels accordingly; a dashboard records their progress for parents and teachers.
Since its beta launch three months ago, the company has seen "ridiculously explosive growth," in the words of co-founder and CEO, Matthew Gross. Newsela has registered users in all 50 states and 60 countries. Gross is keeping mum on the exact user numbers but did share that "right now we have 400 teachers and 3,000 students signing up every day."
All of this was accomplished, he adds, through word of mouth on social networks like Twitter, Edmodo, and Facebook. One reason for the viral growth, Gross suggests, is the "massive hole in the marketplace when it comes to any humanities content in an adaptive platform that adjusts instruction."
Another big factor is the new Common Core Standards for English and Language Arts, which emphasizes the ability to read "complex texts outside of literature" that better reflect the fact-based readings that students will encounter during college and work. The Common Core assessments will also focus on making and supporting arguments based on evidence in the text, which Gross says requires "a huge shift in students' reading mindset" and is something that teachers struggle to teach. "Kids like to think that all that matters is their opinion."
With the funding, the company plans to expand its content offerings to include topics in high demand from teachers, such as health, arts, and the sciences. "Science teachers are frustrated because kids can't read the texts," he says.
"The more content we produce, the more likely students will find something that will enthrall them."
Newsela is currently available for free. The company plans to transition into a paid offering later this year. See here for our in-depth report on Newsela, which includes comments from teachers.