Charter School Network Spawns Commercial School-Data Company
An online data platform that was developed by a prominent charter school network is being turned into a separate, commercial enterprise—an unusual move in the landscape of both charters and educational technology.
The Aspire charter school network, a nonprofit that serves more than 12,000 mostly disadvantaged students in California and will expand to Tennessee later this year, announced that the data toolset Schoolzilla is morphing into a separate entity which will serve districts and schools, at least initially as a for-profit business.
Schoolzilla was launched as part of a special project of the Aspire schools in 2009. It provides schools and districts with a system for collecting and crunching an array of student data with the goal of improving student achievement and other aspects of school performance.
A district can use data on absenteeism generated by Schoolzilla, for instance, to try to decipher patterns about which students are missing school on which days of the week, and come up with strategies to help them.
Or school officials could use longitudinal data on student achievement collected by the system, by subject, and by individual topics within those subjects, to craft interventions for them.
A few years after developing the data system, Aspire began making it available to other schools and districts, in some cases for free, and requests for the data system rose over time, said Lynzi Ziegenhagen, the founder and CEO of the Schoolzilla, who was Aspire's vice president of technology. Schoolzilla was also getting invited by districts to respond to requests for proposals, she said.
The pressures of keeping up with that demand, and a conviction that there was a broader market for helping schools analyze data, led Ziegenhagen and Aspire CEO James Willcox to contemplate having Schoolzilla operate separately from the charter provider, she said.
"We felt like we could scale faster" with a separate venture, Ziegenhagen said. She sees the potential for other charter school operators to spin off portions of their operations—particularly those focused on technological innovation—in similar fashion.
"I hope best practices spread wherever they come from," she said. "There's too much need in this space for that not too happen."
Not much will separate the charter operator and the new company, geographically. Schoolzilla is based in Oakland, Calif., where Aspire is also headquartered. Aspire will continue to use Schoolzilla's services, Ziegenhagen said.
Today, Schoolzilla is used in districts across the country and serves an estimated 400,000 students. With the new venture, the company hopes to expand so that it is serving 1.5 million students within the next year, Ziegenhagen said in an interview. It will continue to work directly with Aspire's schools, Ziegenhagen said.
The new company will offer some of its data tools for free as a public service, she said, while others will come at a cost. The company charges $8 per student, per year, for access to the data warehouse.