The former Google employee Max Ventilla has a vision for an educational “ecosystem” that is unusually responsive to the interests of children. His company, AltSchool, is funded by investors who hope it will help reinvent American education. In this week’s issue, Rebecca Mead gets an inside look at the futuristic educational venture:
  1. From the outside, AltSchool Brooklyn doesn’t seem like a school. It’s in a commercial building in Brooklyn Heights; the only outdoor sign of it is a logo: a light-blue square, with rounded corners, bearing the word “alt.”
  2. Inside, the décor evokes an IKEA showroom, with low-slung couches and clusters of tables. There is no principal’s office and no principal. The school is run by teachers, with most administrative matters handled at AltSchool’s headquarters in San Francisco.
  3. The Brooklyn Heights location is known as a "micro-school." It contains thirty-five students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to third grade. Tuition is about thirty thousand dollars a year.
  4. The school emphasizes “personalized learning,” and student progress is tracked in individual “playlists”—digital records of completed tasks, and those to come. Students at AltSchool are issued a tablet in pre-K and switch to a laptop in later years.
  5. Above the students’ heads, a network of audio recorders hang from the ceiling, and fish-eye lenses are embedded in the walls. The goal of the surveillance system, AltVideo, is to capture every word, action, and interaction, for potential analysis. Teachers maintain a direct line of communication to parents through an app called AltSchool Stream.
  6. Teachers can request access to the video recordings, perhaps to unobtrusively observe a student who had taken a long time completing an assignment and determine if he had been struggling or goofing off.
  7. Two or three times a week, teachers give their colleagues feedback about AltSchool’s digital tools. Software is updated every day.
  8. According to AltSchool’s founder, the company is “really shifting the role of an educator to someone who is more of a data-enabled detective."
  9. Read more about AltSchool's high-tech approach: