In partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Social Innovation & Investment Initiative at the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (NYU Wagner) analyzed more than 40 foundation-related investments, and together we developed a MISSION framework to document its impact investing strategy. The framework is comprised of the following elements: Market, Impact, Scale, Sustainability, Incrementality, Organization and Next. This is the fourth post in a blog series that focuses on each of these elements. This post, on the Scale aspect of the framework, is authored by Mick Hewitt, who is the co-founder and CEO of MasteryConnect. You can read the full case study here.
If you visit the MasteryConnect headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, you’ll see a 42” television screen jam-packed with ever-moving numbers and graphs. This is the MasteryConnect operations dashboard, with real-time reports from teachers about key metrics in their classrooms, completed assessments, and the number of new teacher sign-ups in our community. But one metric best reflects our success in scaling our work to more classrooms and more students: scores for mastery.
A score for mastery is what we use to measure impact at MasteryConnect. Each one represents when a student is assessed on an individual standard or learning outcome, a valuable piece of information that a teacher uses to provide relevant and useful instruction to a student. We are now approaching half a billion scores for mastery. As we watch this number grow, it’s humbling to think that each score represents a moment between a student and a teacher, a reflection of an educator’s investment in a child in the classroom.
The number also represents a story of startup growth and scale. In 2008, MasteryConnect co-founder Trenton Goble was an elementary school principal. He was grappling with how to track student mastery of standards, while also rallying his teachers around formative data so they could effectively target interventions and evaluate efficacy in the classroom. His team tried collecting data countless ways, from Post-Its to Excel spreadsheets. But this time-consuming process strained already overworked teachers. The real challenge was finding a manageable way to translate mounds of data into action for students.
We wanted to find a way to share once-siloed quality assessments and resources. Was there an easier way to track mastery of standards in the exact moment in the classroom when there is an opportunity to impact learning? MasteryConnect was created to help thousands of teachers who had millions of these assessments trapped within their own computers and desk drawers.
We met with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation as an early-stage education technology company without knowing if a family foundation fit alongside our venture capital investors. We quickly saw that our two organizations share a belief in formative assessment as a game changer for teachers and students.
As an impact investor, the foundation places an emphasis on the sustainability of the product as it leads to scaling the impact we have for teachers and students. As we continue to increase our reach in schools and districts, we have scaled our operations and product roadmap to be both innovative and fiscally responsible. Running on a lean budget and leveraging key investments, we have recently celebrated reaching company milestones from both a mission and financial perspective. Between the 2012-2013 school year and the 2017-2018 school year, we have 44 times more bookings and we have delivered 21 times more assessments.
Our success in scaling our model stems from leveraging investor funds to create “freemium” technology products for teachers, while also offering upgraded features for teachers, schools, and districts. The value of our freemium offerings is the selling point for our upgraded features and helps us build a large customer and user base of educators, schools, and districts ready to move away from one-off, custom platforms to a widely-available solution that helps more teachers serve more students.
We doubled down on our core belief that scaling meaningful and intentional use of data in the education ecosystem is achieved through formative assessment practices, not just the use of data tools. To scale our work to address this part of our mission, we tapped into our freemium customer base to launch paid educator professional development services, so that teachers could improve and increase key data usage in the classroom. The resulting program, the Mastery Leadership Institute, has sold out every month since its launch in January 2018. This is largely due to our reach into the educator community from the technology product.
Because of our work with investors, educators, schools, and districts, we will soon see that central number on the dashboard click over 500,000,000 scores for mastery. For us, each digit serves as a reminder of where we’ve been, and as our motivation to continue to find smart ways to serve more teachers, classrooms, and students
Mick Hewitt is a co-founder and the CEO of MasteryConnect. Growing up with a family full of teachers, Mick has been involved in K-12 education for most of his life. Mick’s wife, Natalie, is also a teacher and has been both a seventh-grade math teacher and a third-grade elementary teacher. Mick has worked in web start-ups for most of his career where he has been a passionate driver of good user interfaces and user experience. Mick co-founded a usability testing company that was acquired in 2010. Mick co-founded MasteryConnect in 2009 with Trenton Goble and Doug Weber to help Trenton (a principal at the time) track mastery of standards in the classroom. Mick holds an MBA and speaks fluent Japanese.