Jennifer Schnidman Medbery knew that teaching math at a New Orleans charter school would be tough, even though the school, Sci Academy, had attracted a "dream team" staff. What surprised her was that the most challenging aspect of the job wasn't connecting with the kids, so much as it was keeping track of their progress and behavior on a day-to-day basis.
So Schnidman Medbery, who studied computer science at Columbia University before spending two years with Teach for America in rural Arkansas, decided to create software to help teachers track and analyze student performance.
First, she built a prototype for a discipline-tracking tool because "that was a pain-point at Sci," and the school offered to pay for the software once it was built. "As soon as it was put into place, a number of other high-performing schools contacted me," says Schnidman.
In 2009, Tulane MBA students helped her write a business plan, which she submitted to the university's business plan competition, as well as to contests at the University of Pennsylvania and Idea Village, an incubator in New Orleans. Schnidman Medbery's business, Drop the Chalk, won all three.
That software, called Kickboard, allows teachers to make notes about their students throughout the day, noting, for example, discipline problems, difficulty in grasping key concepts, and positive behavior as well. They can also view their colleagues' observations about the same kids. The software then analyzes the data and searches for patterns that help teachers improve student performance. It also includes a points-based system to help teachers determine which students qualify for rewards, and which ones should, say, get detention. A student/parent portal is currently in development.
Kickboard is currently running in 15 New Orleans charter schools. It's serving as an incubator for Schnidman Medbery, who calls New Orleans "the epicenter of education reform." She is now in the midst of raising $750,000 from investors. "We've had 100 percent customer retention for the past year," she says. "Next year, we want to expand to work with both charters and traditional district schools in other urban regions." Is she concerned about possible pushback from teachers' unions? "It's our goal to prove that the system is not more work for teachers and to change the relationship with unions," she says. "We see our product as a tool that allows teachers to prove that they’re effective long before test scores come back."