Google has confirmed to EdSurge that it bought educational data company BrightBytes for an undisclosed amount sometime around mid-May 2022. 

The acquisition was made without any kind of press release or announcement and was only brought to light because of an email sent to some districts about the transfer of ownership.

BrightBytes is a company that specializes in understanding how tech spending is impacting students’ performance, something that will need to be reckoned with given the so far underspent ESSER money schools will have for the next two years.

One of the biggest perennial issues in EdTech is deciding which data is useful and how useful it is. For years standardized tests were considered to be an excellent data source. The goal was both to optimize for student performance in order to help students with admissions, and to attempt to measure learning broadly.

But standardized testing has hit a critical mass of complaints and frustrations and accusations of systemic racism, and many colleges have dropped the requirement completely (although some schools have backslid on that topic).

So if not testing data then what data is useful? The difference between educational data and other data is how hard it is to quantify the thing that we theoretically care about. Where does learning take place? How do we measure learning if not testing? For Facebook, Youtube, or Amazon, the only things that matter are time spent engaging with content and money made from advertisements or purchases based on the engagements. Education is far messier and usually the outcomes are more long term.

BrightBytes has been trying to leverage data from different sources to compile something that provides some insight for a while and they have been able to stay in the market. They are sitting at around $50m in funding and have made inroads with a lot of districts including at least 125,000 schools, something that is often hard to do in education given the number of stakeholders.

The other part of educational data that is difficult is the question of privacy. The public tends to have higher expectations of student data privacy and belief that student data won’t be used to sell products in other areas. It is not unthinkable that data on low performance in math could be used to try to sell parents on a tutoring option in a Youtube ad, and for a lot of people that is kinda icky. Many people don’t love the idea of all their data, especially their students’ data, being in the hands of a few big tech companies.

But it is also possible that Big Tech companies are better at knowing how to keep data secure. Even after years of alarm bells around student data security, LA Unified School District was recently targeted with a ransomware attack, leading to a massive leak when the district didn’t pay the ransom.

The data itself may be a big part of the reason why Google decided to purchase BrightBytes. It is uncertain whether the company has been growing. In 2019 they sold DataSense, a portion of their business, to Microsoft so that Microsoft could add some of that functionality into Azure. While the amount that DataSense sold for is also unclear

The value of the company when it last raised funding in 2015 was $120m.

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