Panorama Education, a startup that surveys students, parents and teachers to collect actionable data, has raised $12 million in new funding to help school districts make better decisions.
Spark Capital and Owl Ventures led the Series A round. Panorama’s seed investors include Y Combinator, Google Ventures, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s Startup:Education.
Panorama was started in 2013 by two Yale undergraduate students, Aaron Feuer and Xan Tanner, who wanted to figure out the best way for schools to collect and understand feedback from their students.
“There’s all this talk about data and education, but ‘data’ has really been a buzzword and not very meaningful because we’re still looking at test scores, not at how engaged students are,” says Feuer. “There’s a disconnect between the things we care about and the things that we’re actually measuring and judging schools by.”
Schools are required to track a standard set of data by law, including test scores, grades, and attendance records. Panorama uses this existing data as a baseline for the surveys it runs.
When a district signs up, the schools select five specific areas that they’d like to know more about. Students, for instance, will be asked questions to determine how safe they feel at school, how much they trust their teachers, and how much potential they think they have.
“Right now schools track dropout rates, for instance, but it’s not helpful to find out after the student has dropped out,” says Feuer. “Schools want to know if students and teachers have close relationships, because that prevents many students from dropping out.”
On the other hand, top-performing schools want to demonstrate that their students are well-rounded beyond their test scores, which is especially helpful for hiring top teachers.
In order to collect information from a wide variety of schools, Panorama tailors its survey method to fit each one. While polling by email works well for schools in wealthier areas, many districts in the U.S. are still using paper forms as their primary form of communication with students and parents.
The company is currently working with thousands of schools across 220 districts and 40 states that collectively enroll more than three million students. Fourteen of America’s top 100 largest school districts — including San Francisco Unified, Seattle Public Schools, and Dallas Independent — have adopted Panorama, along with most major charter networks.
“I think VCs historically have been somewhat scared of the edtech sales model, but that’s one of the shining points of Panorama,” says Andrew Parker of Spark Capital. “They’ve gained a ton of traction in schools by selling through districts.”
Considering that the New York City Department of Education — the country’s largest school district with nearly 1 million kids enrolled — spends more than $20,000 per student, it’s clear how important it is for schools to be making informed spending decisions. In many cases, the problem isn’t necessarily a lack of funding, but how schools are choosing to allocate funding.
“Spending is the Holy Grail of impact here, but there’s not a whole, well-developed playbook for what actions you take to solve the problems that get diagnosed in education,” says Feuer. “Why is it that schools are still struggling no matter where you go, and throwing an extra $12k per student at the school is not making it better?”
As more districts use Panorama to not only identify issues, but report the results of different strategies to solve them, the company will be able to effectively prescribe solutions for a broad range of educational problems.