Why Edtech Executives Are Keeping a Close Eye on Preschool Demographics

Diversity and Equity

Why Edtech Executives Are Keeping a Close Eye on Preschool Demographics

By Jenny Abamu     Oct 2, 2017

Why Edtech Executives Are Keeping a Close Eye on Preschool Demographics

Edtech executives tell it. There are certain student populations, such as English language learners or ELLs, that haven’t received the investment they deserve. But all that may be changing as investors, tech companies and researchers begin zeroing in on America’s newest school-age cohort—namely, the Pre-Kindergarten set.

“As new populations surface the market is going to correct itself,” noted Tory Patterson the managing director and co-founder of Owl Ventures, referring specifically to ELLs.

Patterson, along with other investors such as ReThink Education’s Matthew Greenfield and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative’s Vivian Wu, recently spoke at the BMO Capital Markets annual Back-to-School Conference last month, saying that they have their eyes on shifting demographics in America. These education tycoons are not only looking for companies that can meet the needs of ELLs through engaging content but some, like the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, are also in the beginning phases of major investments in policy research surrounding economic opportunity and mobility for ELL students.

One of the spaces the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative is honing in on is preschool populations. Wu noted that tracking the data and investigating the policies affecting an increasingly diverse group of preschool students is key to creating a structural environment where both companies and educators those groups can thrive.

Researchers from the Urban Institute echo those sentiments. According to data from the Urban Institute’s 10 Characteristics of Preschool-Age Children, minority groups (Hispanics, Blacks and other non-White groups) have collectively become equal to the majority. Their data is meant to help policymakers and school leaders make educated decisions about serving preschool populations in their local communities.

“If you assume the national demographic patterns make sense for your community, you could well end designing something that doesn't make any sense for your community,” says Dr. Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. In an interview with EdSurge, Adams explained that school officials seeking to serve parents and students in the most efficient manner need to know not only the race or ethnic background of their constituents in their communities but also median income level, the language spoken at home and the level of education parents received.

“If you make the mistake of assuming that many students in your community are Latino and therefore you have to do everything in Spanish, that would not necessarily make sense,” Adams explains. “For example, in New Mexico, you have a high English proficiency rate, even though you have many Latinos. That is because Latinos have been living in New Mexico since before the United States was the United States.”

Adams notes that properly understanding the demographics in a particular region can help school officials make educated investments to improve enrollment in early education, something many officials have made a priority in their districts. In addition, education technology companies are using such data to refine their products and offerings to school districts.

Ellevation, a Boston-based company that provides online communication, reporting, and personalized learning metrics specifically for ELL students in Pre-K through twelfth grade, received more than $11.5 in investments over the last six years. The company’s CEO and co-founder, Jordan Meranus, notes that increased awareness of demographic shifts and diverse needs of populations have lead to an increase in demand for the work his company does.

“There are now content teachers in every district in the country, and increasingly they have children with diverse language needs,” says Meranus in an interview with EdSurge. “To a certain degree, every classroom in the country has a need for Ellevation because of the challenges that content teachers face.”

Unlike some education technology companies that have struggled to get into districts, Meranus says that his company has seen high demand since it was founded. The company is now used in 600 districts in 41 states across the U.S., indicating a need for tools that help educators serve diverse demographics.

“Some of the greatest growth in the number of English language learners over the last generation has been in the South East,” says Meranus. “But we have worked with some of the smallest districts in the country and some of the largest. The demand is consistent at all levels across the country.”

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