As much as the focus of edtech has been on improving student learning, so, too, do teachers need ways to help them grow. But the way that many educators currently receive that support is more convoluted than saying “teacher professional development” five times.
BloomBoard is one of the new wave of startups hoping to fine-tune the professional development process. And, after keeping it a secret for some time, company CEO Jason Lange shared with EdSurge that the company has raised $5 million in Series A round from Birchmere Ventures and the Gates Foundation. (Of the two, Gates contributed $3 million.) The deal was wrapped up at the end of 2013.
Teachers voice plenty of frustration with the way professional development has traditionally been offered.
Administrators frequently spend little time observing or providing useful feedback to teachers about how they teach or handle a class. Training has all too frequently been episodic or overly broad workshops that lack relevance for specific teachers and their needs. As a result, the past three years has seen a number of startups--including BloomBoard--arise to offer more personalized feedback and support for teachers.
“States and districts know that their PD credit requirements are a farce and that their growth measures and CEU (continuing education units) are not tied to teacher’s professional growth and learning,” says BloomBoard co-founder, Jason Lange.
The federal government is attuned to the grumblings. One of the main criteria in the Department of Education’s decision to award Race to the Top grants, (a $4 billion-plus pot), is that each state create a plan for overhauling its PD process to include more personalized, frequent, and data-driven observations, training and evaluations.
The tools that states need to execute those plans, however, are still emerging. “States don’t have the capacity to handle the observation and data tracking process,” says Lange.
BloomBoard offers a platform that helps teachers and administrators record, collect and track the data related to professional development. Teachers set learning goals and create action plans. Based on this data, BloomBoard will recommend resources from over 50 third-party providers that best target their needs. (Not all resources are free, and BloomBoard takes a cut of the sales.) Administrators can also use the platform to upload their notes from observations and track teachers’ progress toward goals.
By tying teacher observation and performance data to third-party PD content providers, Lange is attempting to create a marketplace that elevates the tools that work. “What we get most excited about is actually being able to drive districts to the most outcome-driven PD available by using observation, student performance, demographic, and any other data we can get access to,” he says.
Lange plans to increase the number of PD providers available on his platform to well over 100. In the process of doing so, he’s committed to “working to help content providers understand what is performing best in the market and help them improve their services.”
Other BloomBoard plans include developing social tools that allow teachers to create communities across different schools to share resources, offer feedback and support one another’s learning goals.
BloomBoard currently markets to district-level administrators to deploy its tool. It makes business sense, says Lange. “All the money that a teacher will spend on PD is paltry compared to the billions of dollars that district spend,” he says. “If we want to prioritize changing the system, we need to focus on changing the enterprise.”
By the start of the 2014-2015 school year, Lange predicts, BloomBoard will be used by over 250,000 teachers across 18 states. BloomBoard currently has five state-level contracts with Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and North Carolina. The contract with Connecticut, worth over $1 million, stipulates that the company will provide a work plan, perpetual licenses for its platform and training and support.
Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education, is joining BloomBoard as an independent board member. Both Weiss and Lange have roots in NewSchools Venture Fund; Weiss was formerly a Partner and Chief Operating Officer, and Lange was a summer associate.