Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Laurene Powell Jobs Invest in Company Focused on ELLs

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Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and the widow of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs are among the investors providing $6.4 million to a company focused on building the skills of English-language learners.

Ellevation, based in Boston, says it works with around 450 school districts around the country and 1.2 million students. It raised the Series A funding from investors that included Emerson Capital, led by Laurene Powell Jobs, and Zuckerberg Education Ventures, a venture fund established by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Launched in 2011, Ellevation describes itself as offering online management and instructional tools focused on building collaboration among educators and helping schools meet the evolving demands of the nation’s surging ELL student population.

The company’s site touts a platform that gives teachers a “detailed look” at the progress of those students, reviewing their proficiency levels, accommodations, and academic needs: “All the information in one place, available anytime/anywhere–even on your couch.”

Schools across the country face huge challenges in meeting the needs of ELLs, in part because those students are at so many different levels of language ability, and because their needs vary by grade and academic subject.

(See EdWeek Market Brief’s recent, detailed breakdown of the new and more specific demands that K-12 systems are making of companies operating in the ELL space. We’ve also broken down data on where demands for ELL products are greatest, by region.)

Zuckerberg and Chan announced about two months ago that they would donate 99 percent of their company shares—currently valued at $45 billion—to support efforts to improve public health, education, and communities.

The Facebook co-founder has shown a particular interest in efforts to use technology aimed at cultivating “personalized learning,” a goal shared by many educators and ed-tech companies, even if their aspirations are often vaguely defined.

Zuckerberg said he would channel his funding through a limited liability company, rather than a traditional foundation.

That surprised many observers in education world–and drew criticism from some online commentators. Zuckerberg, however, argued that the LLC designation would give his organization flexibility to not only fund nonprofits but invest in commercial enterprises and “participate in policy debates.”

The investors in Ellevation also include existing investors, as well as the Omidyar Network, a group that backs efforts in consumer Internet, education, citizen engagement, and other areas, Ellevation explained in a blog postThe Omidyar Network was co-founded by Pierre Omidyar, who founded Ebay.

“The new funding will help Ellevation extend our reach to new school systems, support more educators in their work to personalize instruction, and deepen the instructional impact on students,” CEO Jordan Meranus said in the company’s post.

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