Read all about it! Newsela is once again making headlines.
The New York-based company has raised $15 million in a Series B round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which contributed $10 million. Zuckerberg Education Ventures, the Knight Foundation, Owl Ventures, and Women’s Venture Capital Fund chipped in the rest. All told, Newsela has raised over $21 million.
Launched in 2013, the New York-based startup takes daily articles from 40-plus news publications—from Associated Press to Washington Post—and rewrites them at five different Lexile levels. Multiple-choice questions also accompany each leveled article. Like any newspaper, Newsela delivers a variety of current event stories—from tragedies like the Oregon school shooting to the farce that was “Deflategate.”
So far, more than 1,600 articles and 30,000 quiz questions have been written, says Newsela’s co-founder and CEO, Matthew Gross.
The company claims users in 70 percent of US public schools. Around the world, four million students and 400,000 teachers have used the literacy tool. “Most impressive as we were doing our due diligence this spring,” says Brook Byers, a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins who will be joining Newsela’s board of directors, “was trying to keep up with the growth of the company.”
Over the past three years, Kleiner Perkins has bet on several education technology startups, including Coursera, Duolingo and Remind. All three boast user numbers in the tens of millions.
Reading is a big problem and an equally vast market. The National Assessment of Educational Progress—sometimes referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card”—found that only 38 percent of high school seniors scored at or above grade level on the reading test in 2013. Byers estimates there are 20 million US students who are reading below grade level.
With the funding, the company is adding more tools to help teachers find the right kind of content for their classes. Gross touted more advanced search and filtering options that let teachers filter by topic, standards and language. Teachers can also create and share their own collections of Newsela articles.
“Most of the news we publish are evergreen pieces,” Gross tells EdSurge. “It’s important to have kids be news-literate, but it’s a crying shame to leave all this content buried in the deep recesses without great ways to discover it.”
Newsela currently operates on a freemium model that allows teachers and students to access all articles and quizzes for free. Additional features including reporting tools require a yearly subscription that can range from $4,000 to $7,000 per school depending on number of students, says Gross.
Newsela says its impact goes beyond boosting literacy scores. Last year, a class of fifth-graders at a Pennsylvania elementary school wrote to a doctor at John Hopkins Hospital after reading on Newsela about his work creating a prosthetic hand using a 3-D printer. Their request: could he make one for their fourth-grade teacher, who lost her hand in an accident? The doctor agreed.
Newsela has competitors: a slew of literacy startups, including Curriculet and LightSail Education, also offer leveled reading materials and digital assessments. Curriculet also delivers the news, thanks to a deal inked with USA Today back in March.
The team, with offices in New York and California, currently numbers 60 full-time employee. In six months, the headcount may be closer to 100, shares Gross. He’s on the hunt for experts in machine learning and computational linguistics to join the team, and is expecting plenty of help from Kleiner Perkins’ connected network.