Yale startup runs New Haven schools survey

This week, New Haven Public Schools delivered their annual school climate survey to parents, but with a unique Yale twist — the surveys will be administered by a company owned and operated entirely by current Yale students.

Panorama Education, the company that will administer New Haven’s school climate surveys, is a startup founded by Aaron Feuer ’13, David Carel ’13 and Xan Tanner ’13 that provides educational surveys and analysis to schools, districts and states across the country. This year, Panorama added the city of New Haven as one of its 15 clients and will be intimately involved with one of the most important aspects of New Haven’s School Change Initiative. The school climate surveys ask students, parents and teachers questions about their respective schools that range from safety concerns to academic satisfaction. The surveys are used to set goals in each school and make determinations about school tiering.

“There really is nothing out there that does exactly what we do,” Feuer said, “[Panorama Education has] built the tools to handle the complexities of the process.”

PANORAMA BEGINS

Feuer ’13, the CEO of Panorama Education, first decided he wanted to tackle education issues while he was the president of the California Association of Student Councils in high school. Traveling to schools throughout California as part of the job, Feuer said that he found students and teachers were interested in a survey system but that the concept was just too expensive.

Fast forward several years and Feuer received a fellowship from Yale to construct survey software that makes the data collection process both less expensive and more efficient. A year ago, Panorama Education was formed, using the new software that Feuer developed. Carel, director of sales and marketing, said that when the company began they hoped to have three to five clients by January but now boast approximately 15. Their clients include some state-level contracts and districts including Los Angeles and New Haven, with a total of about 800 schools utilizing Panoram’s surveys.

Carel said the goal of Panorama is to provide detailed analysis of school data in a manner that is affordable and presentable. Traditionally schools hire expensive consultants to examine data, he added, but Panorama’s goal is to have the computer do the job of a consultant.

“Every school in the country should be able to afford this type of service,” Carel said. “The idea is an individual teacher should feel like someone sat there and analyzed this data just for them.”

To accomplish the task, Panorama attempts to make the report visibly appealing and break down the responses to each question with a graph. Competitors, on the other hand, often supply only the data sets to the schools and unfortunately “people don’t respond well to information in a data table,” Feuer explained.

Other aspects of Panorama’s innovation are the ways in which the company encourages participation in the survey. The company offers the opportunity to submit surveys online or in paper, follows up with reminder calls and offers to text parents with their access codes, Feuer said. He added that in Los Angeles, the survey response rate was below 10 percent when Panorama was hired and has now risen to above 40 percent.

THE NEW HAVEN CONNECTION

Along with technology advances and a unique presentation, Tanner said he thinks that one factor working in the company’s favor is that its turnaround time for the analysis of the data for NHPS should be much faster this year than it was last year.

In general, Panorama co-founders said their youth is an asset rather than a hindrance in attracting clients.  Carel said that when the company was first founded, “We were terrified that because we were students they weren’t going to take us seriously.”  But instead, the young company has found the opposite to be true.

“There’s a certain energy and passion that comes with us when we sit and chat with [clients]…this is a for profit company but the primary goal is not to make money,” Carel said.

This year, New Haven’s survey questions remained the same as in years prior to allow for historical comparisons, Tanner said. The survey places questions into five categories: academic expectations, communication, collaboration, engagement and safety and respect. Last year, 87 percent of 5th through 12th graders, 81 percent of teachers and 38 percent of parents responded to the survey.

The surveys will help determine the educational goals of schools and principals, and also factor into New Haven’s tiering system, which categorizes schools based on academic achievement and progress.

After they graduate this spring, the student entrepreneurs said they plan on continuing the company, although details about where the company will be located have not yet been finalized, Tanner said. All three said their goal to help schools better analyze and understand their students, parents and teachers outweighs the drawbacks of running a company as undergraduates.

“It is both extremely stressful,” Carel said, “And can be very exhilarating and very fulfilling.”

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