Amazon Will Shut Down TenMarks and Its Digital Math and Writing Tools

Exclusive | Enterprises

Amazon Will Shut Down TenMarks and Its Digital Math and Writing Tools

By Tony Wan and Tina Nazerian     Mar 30, 2018

Amazon Will Shut Down TenMarks and Its Digital Math and Writing Tools

Amazon will be sunsetting TenMarks and its online instructional tools, which were once at the forefront of the company’s K-12 digital education strategy.

A big exclamation mark greets visitors to TenMarks’ homepage, next to the words “We’re winding down.” The message reads: “TenMarks will no longer be available after the 2018-2019 school year. Licenses for TenMarks Math and Writing will be honored through June 30, 2019.”

The news came as a surprise to teacher Ashley Horton, who received an email from TenMarks on the Thursday before the Easter holiday weekend and thought it was an early April Fool’s joke. She emailed the company to learn that it was not. “It was so sudden and there was no reasoning,” she recalls.

Horton, who teaches math and writing to fourth- and fifth-graders at Fremont Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri, says this is the first program that she and a coworker have found that meets their needs for math and writing instruction. Horton says they were disappointed that TenMarks didn’t explain why it’s shutting down.

Amazon didn’t offer much information, either. A company spokesperson wrote via email that “after a thorough review of TenMarks, we’ve made the difficult decision to no longer offer this service after June 30, 2019.” The note did not share the size of the TenMarks staff but said that impacted members are expected to find new roles with Amazon.

Horton says other teachers in her district had been piloting TenMarks in their classrooms. A day before Horton received the cancellation note, her district’s director of learning support had received a quote from TenMarks for the 2018-2019 school year. But the company gave no indication that it would close shop.

Founded in 2009, TenMarks developed a web-based, adaptive K-12 math program that included lesson plans, curriculum and exercises. It had raised about $4.8 million in debt and equity financing, according to Crunchbase, the last of which came in a $3 million round from Birchmere Ventures and Catamount Ventures.

In 2013, TenMarks was acquired by Amazon in a deal that was greeted by the edtech industry as a sign that major technology giants were serious about expanding into education. Even so, the purchase price was never disclosed. There were also speculations that the deal was part of Amazon’s broader plan to introduce its Kindle tablets to K-12 schools—an effort that has not been a focus of Amazon’s recent U.S. education strategy.

At the time of the acquisition, TenMarks claimed its math tools had been used by students across 7,000 U.S. school districts. Most recently, Amazon said that number is now up to 85 percent of districts (or approximately 11,500).

TenMarks’ co-founders Andrew Joseph and Rohit Agarwal, joined Amazon Education after the transaction but left, respectively, in 2016 and 2017. Still, the TenMarks team continued to push ahead with new product lines. Last August, the team unveiled an instructional writing tool for students in grades 4 to 6. Among its features was a digital writing assistant that used natural language processing technology to offer “personalized” feedback on word choice and narrative organization. It was available for $4 per student per year.

The impending shutdown of TenMarks marks the latest pause and setback for Amazon’s efforts to develop and sell digital instructional services for the K-12 market. In 2016, the company launched Inspire, an online directory where teachers could upload and share instructional materials. That project almost immediately hit a snag when reports surfaced that users could share copyrighted content without permission. Earlier this year, EdSurge reported that Amazon quietly re-introduced the sharing feature with a way for users to report infringements.

While such pivots and product changes may be business as usual in the software world, such shifts can be highly disruptive to schools and teachers—especially when they have invested time in learning to use the platform.

“Our district was looking into adopting [TenMarks], and now we can’t,” Horton says. “ We don’t know where we’re going to go now.”

Update: After publication, Allison Pilley, the director of learning support at Springfield Public Schools, responded with the following statement:

"While we were disappointed to hear about TenMarks shutting down, it was one of many programs we are investigating for adoption during the 2019-2020 school year. We will continue to search for the best fit for our students and teachers."

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