School survey startup Panorama Education nets $12m investment

Sepia Schoolkids 920

Startups have made plenty of noise about using technology to replace parts of the education system. One Boston-based company is finding early success by helping teachers and school districts do their jobs better.

Panorama Education, which sells education quality surveys and data-analysis services to school districts around the country, has landed a new $12 million investment from venture capital firms.

The money will help the small company expand its current staff of about three dozen people as it tries to expand into to more schools, said Aaron Feuer, Panorama’s chief executive.

That investment is coming at a relatively good time for education tech spending. A recent study by analysis firm EdNET showed that nearly 90 percent of school districts nationwide expected their technology budgets to hold steady or increase this year, with data analysis tools listed as one of the top needs for educators.

“We actually started the company when we were college students, and common wisdom says you’re crazy to try to work with school districts,” he said with a laugh. “We were too naive to have heard that wisdom.”

Panorama’s core product is a set of digital surveys that can be used to measure how students and teachers feel about the quality of their education. The surveys can be customized to measure what a local district sees as most important, Feuer said.

“Some districts might say `We really care about grittiness and tenacity, and school safety,’” Feuer said. “And some districts might say, `We really care about students being excited for college and parents being involved.’”

Panorama says it has been used by more than 6,000 schools and some 3 million students, including 14 of the country’s 100 largest districts. Some high-profile clients include Seattle Public Schools, the San Francisco Unified School District, and the Dallas Independent School District.

The price for Panorama’s service varies by school size. On its website, the startup lists an annual cost for surveys as $1 per student in a district, with a minimum of $3,000.

In Dallas, where the survey results can count for up to 15 percent of a teacher’s overall performance evaluation, kids were asked questions like “When you need extra help, how good is this teacher at giving you that help?”

The district released the first round of results this spring, with detailed results about individual schools and grade levels. While most students said they felt supported by teachers, the district noted, “many students responded that they don’t feel their teacher is concerned about them as a person.”

Feuer said that part of the challenge in growing his company is a recent trend toward high-stakes tests, particularly under the decade-old No Child Left Behind federal education law, which can tie a school’s federal funding levels to progress on a handful of data points.

“Everybody’s exposure to data for the last 10 years has been `This is why your school’s struggling,’” Feuer said. “We’re coming in trying to say, look — data can be this really valuable tool, even though when you’ve had it, it hasn’t been good.”

Some of Panorama’s previous investors include Google Ventures and Startup:Education, a nonprofit founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The new investment round was led by San Francisco-based Owl Ventures and Boston’s Spark Capital.