Education is one of the few things that can disrupt a poverty cycle. If we want what’s best for students, we have to empower the ones who are doing the work in the trenches. Over the last few years, there has been this resurgence around technology and how it will help educators. There’s an enhanced focus on making it available to them, so that gap is closing.

Let’s say you just got hired by a tech startup. You’re tasked with creating graphics, bright and flashy images that can shape the way people view your new company moving forward. You’re pumped, you’re nervous, and you’re ready to make a difference. When you show up for day one, you’re led to a desk. Upon this desk sits a crusty old PC, equipped with Windows ’98 and a 45 lb. monitor, an old computer welcoming you to a new job. This can’t be real, you think, and you wait patiently for someone to let you in on the joke. Instead, your superior wishes you well and lets you know that large things are expected of you while walking away, leaving you alone with outsized expectations and minimal tools. You know you have ample knowledge and skills, but the creative powers inside you stay locked away, another victim of outdated technology.

Let’s take this scenario over to the education space. You’re a teacher. You’re tasked with honing the minds of 30+ children per year, molding each brain into a unique organism that learns and absorbs information at max efficiency. From a logical perspective, doesn’t it make sense to equip these teachers with every bit of technology and resources that the world has to offer? Doesn’t it make sense that people charged with shaping the learning habits of the next generation should be using the sharpest, most-effective tools to do so? There shouldn’t be a canyon-sized gap between current technology and the technology being used to teach today’s youth — this makes absolutely no sense and wouldn’t be tolerated in many other areas.

Fear not, educators of the world. There is a wave of newer EdTech companies, amongst them Salt Lake City-based MasteryConnect, that are here to shrink the gap.

“Teachers are tasked with changing student outcomes, which is not easy,” CEO Cory Reid told Beehive Startups in a recent interview. “Think of how cute kids are, how full of life they are, how curious they are, how good they are at satisfying those curiosities, and how active they are. Then, times that by 35 and you have a classroom. If you’re tasked with channeling that energy and not only learn, but learn to love learning, that’s a tall order. I’m a parent, that’s a tall order with just me and my children. And then you compound by giving teachers a five-year-old computer that doesn’t work half the time, with technology that isn’t good or too old. They just don’t have enough. That would never, ever fly in business. That’s a big point of frustration for me and why I’m really grateful that that gap is finally starting to close.”

Reid knows education-based software — prior to MasteryConnect, he was the CEO for Instructure, another EdTech company seeking to bring education software up to current speeds. Reid helped found MasteryConnect because he believes strongly in providing a solution to frustrated teachers, one that allows them to identify specific levels of understanding for students (basically who knows what, when) and then use that knowledge to improve learning and instruction.

“Core to our DNA is a belief in teachers in the classroom and we develop our software with that in mind,” said Reid. “That’s evidence to teachers, as soon as they come to the website, that this is for them. Somewhere along the way, companies like us and administrators forgot about the end user, which is the teacher. So regardless of how awesome the software says that it is, if the teacher isn’t using it, it’s of zero value.”

MasteryConnect’s software provides value for teachers, evidenced by the 1.6 million educators using it across America. So what does it actually do? Many things, thanks for asking. First and foremost, MasteryConnect allows educators to track student learning in real-time — instead of waiting until end-of-year testing to gauge where students are at, MasteryConnect measures the level of comprehension students show for each individual subject as it happens. Teachers can give quick assessments to test knowledge, providing effective benchmarks in showing where each student is at in the learning cycle. By being more aware of how each student is learning, teachers can then effectively shape those same students’ habits moving forward.

“We’re participating in impact at the developmental level for a child,” Reid said. “The reason I say participating, it’s teachers in the classroom who are doing the work. Software companies, investors, policy makers, none of us change education. Teachers do. So it’s up to all of us to try and innovate around ways that can help teachers in the classroom.”

Every teacher has a curriculum map, a basic layout that tells them what they are going to be teaching over the course of a year. Traditionally, this has been in the form of a Word document, or a monstrous poster, or countless sticky notes posted haphazardly to the wall. MasteryConnect doesn’t believe in these antiquated ways, so they’ve built a solution.

“We’ve created a curriculum map that’s drag-and-drop, shareable, and you can add assets to it like assessments, websites, images, all kinds of things,” Reid said. “From that curriculum map, the teacher creates a tracker, which is the repository for the evidence of learning.”

From within the platform, the options are plentiful. In addition to new-age curriculum mapping, MasteryConnect has built a variation of Pinterest, where educators can post resource pins on their map, a quick and easy way to align content to common standards.

One month ago, MasteryConnect launched another feature designed to ease the burden of teachers.

“Essentially, we built a Pluralsight for educators,” Reid said. “They can interact with professional development around the instructional approach, around our software, and we’re starting to create and consume other content libraries for educators.”

What’s cooler than receiving $29 million in funding? Receiving that money and also being able to say that Mark Zuckerberg is down with your company, shown by his recent $5 million investment (along with his wife, Priscilla Chan) in MasteryConnect.

“We found alignment on their passion for competency-based learning and they really loved the work that we are doing,” Reid said. “We’ve built an enterprise-level sales implementation support machine that supports teachers in the classroom and I think they found that really unique in this space. There’s not a lot of companies like us in K-12 education that have cracked that nut.”

I write about technology on a day-to-day basis, so I will say this — technology is great. It allows us to go places that didn’t seem possible 10 years ago. It enhances our ability to learn and comprehend, providing learning accelerators in the form of tablets and smartphones. As more and more companies continue to make their mark in the EdTech world, it’s reasonable to hope for a future filled with education and technology combined in a potent, extraordinary, incredibly advantageous mix. MasteryConnect is part of that future.

“Education is one of the few things that can disrupt a poverty cycle,” Reid said. “If we want what’s best for students, we have to empower the ones who are doing the work in the trenches. Over the last few years, there has been this resurgence around technology and how it will help educators. There’s an enhanced focus on making it available to them, so that gap is closing.”

Published 10/6/2015