Skip to main content
Move the World.

In episode four of Challengers, we brought you the story of AltSchool, a startup founded by ex-Googler, Max Ventilla. We followed up with Max to discuss his vision for a new way to educate kids and how he plans to make it all happen.

On why we need to rethink how we educate

The model that we currently have for educating kids at scale is born of the 19th century. It's a factory model. But we're entering a world where there's not a lot of value in just kind of sitting there and doing what you're told. Increasingly a computer could do that kind of stuff. Repetitive work, whether physical or mental, is going away and there's the opportunity to do more.

Tech takes center stage at AltSchool
Tech takes center stage at AltSchool

AltSchool is about bringing what's possible in 2016 and beyond into the classroom, so that it's not a never-ending toil for teachers to achieve a good result. And the result we want to achieve is actually preparing kids for the 2030s, and the 2040s, and the 50s, instead of for the 1950s and the 1960s. The technology wave that's coming is going to wash over the next generation to an even greater degree than it has washed over ours. And you're either in front of that wave, and benefiting from it, or you're swept up by it, and constantly toiling to feed your family and maintain your relationships.

On the difference between building a new school and building a new education model

AltSchool is a platform that enables us to run a growing network of physical AltSchools, but that also enables other people to run existing schools with a focus on personalized education.

altschool-4
Classroom at AltSchool

In terms of the schools we run ourselves, it's important at a fundamental level that the experience is amazing for those kids. But we're thinking in terms of the network. How do we create an approach where the quality isn't coming from exclusively what is within those four walls, but from everything that everybody else has figured out at schools everywhere else?

On scaling the product and improving it at the same time

On our small scale, this is for a few hundred kids and tens of educators. We want to know, how can this help hundreds of millions of kids, and how can we make sure that we're going to benefit from that growth?

altschool-1
AltSchool wants to build the school system of the future

That’s what makes this so different from even the best education experiences, like Montessori. If you doubled the number of kids in Montessori schools tomorrow, the experience wouldn't get that much better for any individual child. That’s very different from modern industries, like consumer electronics, or information technology, or media, or healthcare. In those industries, if you suddenly double the number of people being served by some system, it gets much better for everybody involved.

On letting kids have more say in their own education

It's not, “I'm gonna give this kid an iPad, and the math practice they have is going to be personalized to them.” We want to set up the whole experience to reflect when they're in school, who they're in school with, what type of program they’re in, what goals do they have, what activities are they engaged in, and how they are being assessed.

We want to meet each child where they're at. That’s because you get more out of every day if it's personalized to you, but also because that's how we teach these kids to deal with responsibility: by giving them agency.

Max Ventilla and his family
Max Ventilla and his family

By the time you get to middle school, you should really be driving the experience. You should be able to say, “These are the things that are important to me, I need to translate my interests and priorities into a demonstration that I know all the things that I'm supposed to know.” That's very similar to the working world, where even if you have a tremendous amount of autonomy, you need to reconcile what you like to do with the goals of your company.

And it’s a very different role than when a teacher is simply telling all the kids in the classroom, “Open this page, prepare for this test. You're going to need to answer these ten questions, and if you answer them all right you get 100 percent, if you answer them wrong, you fail.” That's just not the way the world works.

On literally buying into your own startup

AltSchool offices
AltSchool offices

Even if you know it takes a lot of work to make a significant change in the world, it's hard to do the steady toil for years and years. But that’s what we signed up for. I have a 10-year vest, as does our COO and CTO. Everyone who is director or above in the company has a six-year vest, because we know this is a long-term endeavor. All of our investors are oriented towards that kind of decade-plus timeline, because it’s a big opportunity for a big transformation. Maybe I want take a vacation from it, but it's always the thing that I want to come back to.


Related video:

Up Next

Helping People with Disabilities Become Working Artists
Helping People with Disabilities Become Working Artists
Watch Now
Helping People with Disabilities Become Working Artists
Only 20% of people with disabilities participate in the workforce; Art Enables helps those with special needs turn art into a career.
Watch Now

Art Enables helps artists with special needs create and sell their artwork. Only 20% of people with disabilities participate in the workforce. This program counters that by providing both an art studio for people with disabilities to make art and career and vocational training to market and sell their artwork. It helps these artists express themselves creatively, socialize, and earn flexible income to increase their...

Dispatches
Self-driving Uber Fatality: Video Shows Tech Failure & Human Error
Self-driving Uber Fatality: Video Shows Tech Failure & Human Error
Dispatches
Self-driving Uber Fatality: Video Shows Tech Failure & Human Error
The only way to make self-driving cars safer is to take the risk of more testing.

The only way to make self-driving cars safer is to take the risk of more testing.

The Business Fair for Children
The Business Fair for Children
Watch Now
The Business Fair for Children
At this business fair, kids are the entrepreneurs...
Watch Now

At the Acton Children's Business Fair, the kids are the entrepreneurs. Wanting to inspire kids to follow their passions, the organizers of the fair created a space where the young business owners can make and sell their own products. "I believe kids are way more powerful than we give them credit for," organizer David Kirby told us. The businesses ranged from an iPhone repair shop, to organic cleaning supplies. "I think...

Challengers
Four Crazy Uses for Virtual Reality (That Aren't Video Games)
Four Crazy Uses for Virtual Reality (That Aren't Video Games)
Challengers
Four Crazy Uses for Virtual Reality (That Aren't Video Games)
We’re now starting to scratch the surface of the true potential of virtual reality.
By Mike Riggs

We’re now starting to scratch the surface of the true potential of virtual reality.

Challengers
How VR Could Change Your Life
How VR Could Change Your Life
Watch Now
Challengers
How VR Could Change Your Life
Virtual reality could alter the human experience forever.
Watch Now

Imagine if you could climb Mount Everest and go on stage at a Beyonce concert with your friends...before breakfast. Linc Gasking and his team of visual effects experts at 8i thinks they can make holograms of humans so real, that VR will go mainstream and they’ll alter the human experience forever.

Challengers
Three Reasons We Don't Have More Nuclear Power in the U.S.
Three Reasons We Don't Have More Nuclear Power in the U.S.
Challengers
Three Reasons We Don't Have More Nuclear Power in the U.S.
Many think of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island when they hear nuclear power. But nuclear's struggle to gain a...
By Freethink Team

Many think of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island when they hear nuclear power. But nuclear's struggle to gain a foothold in the U.S. is more nuanced than isolated safety problems.

Challengers
Meet the Startup Developing Human-Level Artificial Intelligence
Meet the Startup Developing Human-Level Artificial Intelligence
Challengers
Meet the Startup Developing Human-Level Artificial Intelligence
The story of Vicarious' mission to build the world's first human-level artificial intelligence and use it to help...
By Mike Riggs

The story of Vicarious' mission to build the world's first human-level artificial intelligence and use it to help humanity thrive.

Challengers
Can AI Solve Our Biggest Problems?
Can AI Solve Our Biggest Problems?
Watch Now
Challengers
Can AI Solve Our Biggest Problems?
Vicarious believes smart machines could solve virtually every problem humans can’t.
Watch Now

Scott Phoenix, cofounder of Vicarious, believes smart machines could one day cure cancer, create new forms of energy, and solve virtually every problem that humans simply can’t. With the support of investors like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Vicarious is striving to bring about this future in our lifetimes.