K-12 Dealmaking: ACT Invests in Smart Sparrow; LivingTree, PeopleAdmin Make Acquisitions

Contributing Writer

In this week’s dealmaking news, assessment developer ACT invested in adaptive learning company Smart Sparrow. Also, K-12 engagement platform LivingTree acquired fundraising platform Edbacker and PeopleAdmin acquired Performance Matters from Weld North.

ACT Invests $7.5 Million in Smart Sparrow: ACT, the nonprofit developer of the ACT test and other assessments, has made a $7.5 million strategic investment in Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning company based in Sydney, Australia and San Francisco.

ACT joins other investors including Moelis Australia Asset Management, Yellow Brick Capital Advisers, OneVentures, and Uniseed.

As a result of ACT’s investment, the two organizations “will collaborate to accelerate work in learning innovation and expand upon their shared mission to help individuals succeed academically, and make successful transitions into the career pathways of tomorrow,” according to a statement.

“ACT recognizes the outstanding learning capabilities Smart Sparrow has brought to the global market, representing the leading edge of education technology and an abiding commitment to the role of great teachers,” said Marten Roorda, CEO of ACT, noting that the investment is consistent with ACT’s ambition to become a learning company.

He added that by investing in Smart Sparrow, “we’ll be helping people around the world learn more efficiently and effectively than ever before.”

Dror Ben-Naim, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Smart Sparrow, said the new association with ACT “will help us deliver on our mission of putting amazing technology in the hands of global educators, so they can create dynamic learning experiences that authentically blend learning and assessment.”

LivingTree Acquires Edbacker: LivingTree, an Austin, Texas-based K-12 engagement platform, has acquired district fundraising tool, Edbacker, according to a statement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. With the acquisition, Edbacker CEO Gary Hensley will take the helm as the new LivingTree CEO.

Livingtree said it will now deliver three key products: LivingTree Engage, a communication- and parent-engagement platform (formerly known as LivingTree), LivingTree Giving, a district-wide fundraising platform (formerly Edbacker), and LivingTree Messenger (formerly Class Messenger), a teacher-centric communications solution.

“Districts, schools, and educators need robust tools and tailored solutions,” said Hensley. “Uniting our enterprise fundraising solution, Edbacker and LivingTree services will continue to fulfill LivingTree’s mission in helping better serve and connect their school communities.”

Prior to joining LivingTree, Hensley founded and led Edbacker as CEO, developing a district-wide online fundraising platform to connect parents, corporations, and districts. Before Edbacker, Hensley served as director of strategic partnerships and product management at Pearson, which bought Hensley’s K-12 dropout prevention software.

PeopleAdmin Acquires Performance Matters: PeopleAdmin, a provider of talent management solutions for education, has agreed to acquire Performance Matters, according to a statement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The combined company will operate as TalentEd by PeopleAdmin, serving over 5,000 educational institutions, including the majority of the nation’s largest K-12 districts, the companies said.

Performance Matters, an operating company of Weld North Holdings LLC, provides tools and analytics for professional development, evaluation, and student assessment.

Joining forces with Performance Matters will “expand our customers’ abilities to strategically link talent development and professional learning, and deliver comprehensive tools that meet their needs for data-driven insights supported by proven results,” said Jack Blaha, CEO of PeopleAdmin. “Combining current offerings… signifies a new era in using technology to link educator and student data to inform action at the individual educator, school and district levels.”

“By tying together educator and student data with TalentEd’s solutions, we’ll create an extremely powerful set of K-12 talent management and student assessment solutions that will give school and district leaders data-informed, actionable insights to expand and improve the way educators teach and students learn,” said Adam Klaber, CEO of Performance Matters.

This is the second major move by Weld North in 2018. Earlier this year, Weld North Education sold three of its K-12 digital curriculum companiesEdgenuityGeneration Ready, and Imagine Learning—for close to $1 billion to Silver Lake, a private equity firm focused on technology investments.

In 2016, PeopleAdmin, a portfolio company of Vista Equity Partners, acquired education talent management solution TeacherMatch.

Asteria Education Receives $4 Million in Financing for ECS Acquisition: Asteria Education received $4 million in financing from commercial finance and debt restructuring firm Business Capital to acquire Texas-based test preparation publisher ECS Learning Systems, according to an announcement posted to The PE Hub Network.

ECS provides test-prep materials and software for reading, writing, mathematics, science and critical thinking skills.

Asteria’s website notes the company acquired ECS last November. David Cumberbatch, president and CEO of ECS Learning Systems and private equity investor in the acquisition, said in the statement that Business Capital assisted with the acquisition “after the initial financing structure failed.”

“Within a matter of weeks, they were able to coordinate a rigorous process resulting in successful financing,” he said. “Overall, their knowledge and domain expertise shaved months off the process and, most likely, saved the deal.”

Escape Technology Partners with Software Answers: Escape Technology, a portfolio company of affiliated funds managed by Alpine Investors, has formed a partnership with Software Answers, a software solution for K-12 school leaders and educators, according to a statement.

With the partnership, Escape, a provider of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for K-12 schools in California, “further supplements their integrated suite of finance, payroll, and HR modules that manage critical budgeting and payroll processes,” the company said.

“We are very confident in the partnership with Escape, Ali Jenab, and our mutual investment in the future of education technology and innovation,” said Paul Chaffee, co-founder of Software Answers. “This partnership enhances our ability to provide cutting-edge solutions that support the needs of the entire school community and the K-12 education industry as a whole. The future potential that this partnership creates is truly remarkable, and we are extremely excited to continue to deliver knowledgeable service and support to our customers.”

Pearson Partners with littleBits: Pearson has formed a partnership with littleBits, a provider of technology kits for kids, to offer a blended print and hands-on 3-8 curriculum combining Pearson’s Elevate Science curriculum with littleBits products.

The new program, dubbed “Pearson littleBits STEM Invention Toolbox,” puts students at the center of learning as they collaborate to explore ideas, investigate phenomena through modeling, design inventions that solve real-world problems, and share their inventions,” according to a statement from the companies.

The collaboration will roll out across the country as the science curriculum adoption cycle moves through each state, beginning in Florida in 2018 and then California in 2019. The curriculum is aligned to new state standards and reflecting the direction of the Next Generation Science standards, the companies noted.

Blackboard, VitalSource Collaborate: Ed-tech company Blackboard and VitalSource, a platform for creating and delivering educational and training content, have formed a collaboration aimed at providing students with access to course materials in an “Inclusive Access” model within Blackboard’s learning management systems (LMS), Blackboard Learn and Moodlerooms, according to a statement.

In the Inclusive Access model, faculty-selected course content is made available in the LMS at the start of a course, and the costs can be included in students’ tuition and fees, according to the statement.

The collaboration expands upon the existing relationship between both companies and “makes VitalSource’s extensive catalog of digital textbooks and publisher learning platforms readily available, while also lowering the cost of course materials for students,” the companies noted.

“For an Inclusive Access program to scale, one of the key ingredients is making sure that students have a seamless experience,” said Mike Hale, vice president of Education at VitalSource. “By being Blackboard’s only integration for Inclusive Access, VitalSource will now be able to almost universally remove access codes, and other major operational burdens that campus stores, publishers, and institutions have dealt with, making it easier for our customers to deliver student success and affordability.”

Goodwill, Google.org and Coursera Join Forces: Goodwill Industries International, Google.org, and online education provider Coursera have formed a collaboration to help people obtain the skills they need to start careers in IT, according to a statement.

Eighteen local, autonomous Goodwill organizations are now recruiting applicants age 17 and older to earn the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. This credential is designed to take beginning students to job readiness in eight to 12 months using a Coursera platform, with content created exclusively by Google.

Google.org is providing financial assistance to 10,000 students over the next year.  The scholarships will be awarded through nonprofit partners, including Goodwill organizations across the country.

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