Abl Raises $7.5M Series A to Help Schools Solve Befuddling Scheduling...


Abl Raises $7.5M Series A to Help Schools Solve Befuddling Scheduling Problems

By Tony Wan     Jun 29, 2017

Abl Raises $7.5M Series A to Help Schools Solve Befuddling Scheduling Problems

To borrow from the poet Robert Burns, the best-laid plans of teachers and principals often go awry and unfinished—especially when it comes to a school’s master schedule. Just ask Lee Fleming, a principal at Bonsall High School in San Diego.

“The master schedule is an never-ending job,” she tells EdSurge. “It is the vehicle for delivering equity—and inequity, when done poorly.”

Master schedules are the blueprints by which schools operate. They determine not just where students and teachers are assigned, but also how the school provides extra time, resources and specialized support to learners with different needs.

Fleming is one of the few principals who’s taken a test drive of a scheduling tool offered by Abl, a San Francisco startup that aims to enable (pun intended) administrators like her to better plan for and manage staffing and scheduling changes.

Today the company announced it’s closed $7.5 million in a Series A round, led by Rethink Education. Joining the New York-based venture firm are Sinovation Ventures, Owl Ventures, Reach Capital and First Round Capital. On top of a $4.5 million seed round that closed last April, Abl has now raised $12 million.

Allocating human resources based on students’ needs and a teacher’s availability is no small task. In many ways it’s a zero-sum game. Let’s say a school offers only one computer science class on Mondays at 9am. That means students who want to take that class cannot be placed in others. Or that other students taking an elective or AP course offered at the same time cannot take computer science.

Consider all the other classes offered, the number of students and the limited human resources a school has, and the magnitude of the scheduling problem becomes clear. “Every time you block off a time for a particular teacher or class,” Fleming adds, it sets off a ripple effect that impacts which students can—or can’t—do during that time.

Adding another layer of complexity is the fact that staff and students switch classes throughout the course of a year. New students may also enroll and need to be placed in classes immediately.

Abl aims to assist principals as they modify the school schedule based on the changing needs of their teachers and students. The tool, says company founder and CEO Adam Pisoni, is intended to get educators to “stop thinking of master scheduling as a once-a-year activity and something they can tweak and adjust throughout the year.”

Last year, Abl invited schools to pilot its scheduling software. The company initially expected to work with six traditional high schools, but the deluge of applications was so great that it ended up with 12. Abl’s staff worked closely with these principals to learn about their scheduling pain points, and refined its tool based on these early users’ experiences.

In these pilots, the Abl team visited each school and talked to administrators about their priorities in supporting student learning. The team then surfaces data from a school’s student information system to provide a bird’s-eye view of the needs and resources that are available. Using this information the Abl software will make recommendations for the best schedule available.

One of the things his team learned, says Pisoni, was “the extent that traditional schools are already experimenting with flex-time blocks” and other strategies to better serve their students. Principals “don’t use the term ‘personalization,’” he adds, “but that’s in effect what they’re doing to best meet their students’ and teacher’s needs.”

The company plans to start selling Abl to high schools this fall at a price range between $4 to $7 per student, according to Pisoni. It will also offer the software to elementary and middle schools early next year.

Disclosure: Owl Ventures and Reach Capital are investors in EdSurge

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