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Podium Education Raises $12M to Help Colleges Offer For-Credit Tech Programs

With the labor market and college campuses reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of new online learning platforms teaching in-demand tech skills to undergraduates comes at a fortuitous time.

That’s the case for the builders of these tools as well, like Podium Education . Since launching at the start of 2020, the Austin, Texas-based startup has partnered with over 20 colleges and more than 1,000 students. And announced $ 12 million in Series A funding.

Podium’s premise is simple: offer online classes, with sophisticated design and production, taught by leading experts in technology fields that are attractive to companies hiring in the modern jobs market. It aims to equip all students, regardless of academic focus, with digital competencies.

“We believe that soft skills plus hard skills create the talents that the workplace demands,” said Brooks Morgan, Podium Education co-founder and CEO. “Whatever your passion is, whatever it is that you are going to try and do in this world, do it with the skills that will get you a better job within your field.”

This funding round is led by Sid Krommenhoek at Album VC and Zander Rafael at Spring Tide Capital, with Firework Ventures, Degreed, Learn Capital, Goldcrest Capital, CampusLogic and 137 Ventures also participating. Podium will use the funds to offer more classes, at more colleges, Morgan said.

Podium class content is produced in-house, with prestigious teaching talent and glossy video production creating a product that resembles the offerings of other online teaching platforms like Masterclass. The company has invested heavily in content. Teaching materials include datasets from Netflix, Spotify and Lime Scooters for student use.

But unlike other competitors that cater to general consumers, Podium aims to deliver courses within the traditional university environment. Students meet weekly in a virtual setting with other members of their campus community to take classes.

Offering a program that is supplementary to existing undergraduate programs is a key difference between Podium and rival online educators, Morgan said. Podium classes can be taken for credit, and are federal financial aid and Pell Grant-eligible. Students, regardless of major, can take them to minor in data science. Thanks to the recent funding round, options to minor in web development and digital marketing are enrolling now for January 2021.

“We’re able to invest more capital than any single institution would be able to invest in a program like this,” Morgan said. “Rather than an institution having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a program, we spend millions instead. They get world-class content, turnkey.”

The Podium partnership model requires zero out-of-pocket production expenses or from institutions and can be launched to students in as little as two weeks. Podium takes a 50 percent fee from institutions for each student enrolled in one of its courses.

“Podium helped us launch a new Data Analytics and Data Visualization program with strong student demand this past summer,” said Yusuf Dahl, executive director of the Dyer Center for Entrepreneurship at Lafayette College. “Combining a classic liberal

America’s gifted education programs have a race problem. Can it be fixed?

This article about gifted education was produced in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. This is part 1 of the series “Gifted Education’s Race Problem.”

BUFFALO, N.Y. — On a crisp day in early March, two elementary school gifted and talented classes worked on activities in two schools, 3 miles and a world apart.

In airy PS 64 Frederick Law Olmsted, in affluent, white north Buffalo, 22 would-be Arctic explorers wrestled with how to build a shelter if their team leader had frostbite and snow blindness. Unusually for Buffalo’s public schools — where 20 percent of students are white and 46 percent are Black — about half of the fourth grade class was white.

In PS 61 Arthur O. Eve, on the city’s majority-Black East Side, 13 first graders, all of them Black, Latino or Asian American, folded paper airplanes in their basement classroom as part of an aerodynamics and problem-solving lesson. Unlike at Olmsted, the highest-scoring elementary school in the city, students at Eve scored around the dismal city average in math and English in 2019, when fewer than a quarter of students passed state tests.

The gifted program at Eve opened two years ago as a way to increase access to Buffalo’s disproportionately white, in-demand gifted and talented programs. Buffalo educators hoped Eve’s new program would give more children — particularly children of color — a chance at enrichment and advanced learning.

Yet two years in, Eve’s gifted classes are under-enrolled, while Olmsted always runs out of room — last year, more than 400 children applied for 65 gifted spots. And even though the district made it easier to apply for gifted classes, Olmsted gifted classrooms still don’t look like the rest of the district. White families flock to Olmsted, and eschew the new program at Eve, while families of color have come up against barriers, including an IQ test children take as young as 4, that experts say keep gifted education out of reach for kids who need it.

At PS 61 Arthur O. Eve on Buffalo’s East Side, Sarah Malczewski’s first grade gifted class prepares to launch the paper airplanes they designed to fly as far as possible.Danielle Dreilinger for The Hechinger Report

Buffalo’s struggle to create an integrated, equitable gifted program demonstrates a longtime challenge that has recently gained attention: Gifted education in America has a race problem.

Nearly 60 percent of students in gifted education are white, according to the most recent federal data, compared to 50 percent of public school enrollment overall. Black students, in contrast, made up 9 percent of students in gifted education, although they were 15 percent of the overall student population.

Many factors contribute to this disparity. Gifted education has racism in its roots: Lewis Terman, the psychologist who in the 1910s popularized the concept of “IQ” that became the foundation of gifted testing, was a eugenicist. And admissions for gifted programs tend to favor children with

Tennessee education department announces $2M for educator training programs

Aspiring teachers attending seven universities across the state will be able to apply for limited full scholarships, thanks to a $2 million allocation by the Tennessee Department of Education through it’s Grow Your Own teacher education program.

Funded by Grow Your Own grants, university educator training programs partner with school districts to provide tuition-free education for aspiring teachers. Participants work as education assistants at placements in partner school districts, learning under qualified teacher mentors. The program was initiated with an eye to increasing access and removing barriers to the teaching profession.

“The Grow Your Own initiative will expand across the state and support hundreds of individuals to become teachers for free – while employed in our Tennessee school districts,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. “Right now, it could not be more important to remove barriers to the teaching profession, and I am proud of the way our state is coming together to continue preparing great teachers in innovative ways.”

The $2 million investment will support teacher training and associated placements in 35 school districts across the state and enable 262 aspiring teachers to receive training, classroom experience and a teacher license at no cost.

The competitive grant awards will expand existing Grow Your Own programs at Austin Peay State University, Lipscomb University and the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus, and initiate programs at Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

“UTC is thrilled to be selected as one of the Grow Your Own awardees and thankful to the Tennessee Department of Education for the award,” said School of Education Director Renee Murley, of the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

Between 1971 and 2017, the number of graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in education dropped by 51 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Tennessee has seen a 25 percent decrease in education graduates between 2014 and 2018. As of January, 1,134 teaching positions were unfilled across the state, according to the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

“Jackson County Schools is excited to be working with Tennessee Tech as part of the Grow Your Own initiative,” Jackson County Schools Director Kristy Brown said. “This is an incredible opportunity for our district and state to develop great teachers and fulfill critical needs in our classrooms.”

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