Startup Challenge Semifinalist: Gradient

Gradient (high-res two arrow)
Gradient photo

Team Leader:
Daniel David, GED’17

elevator pitch: We match our grading specialists with time-strapped teachers to provide their students with prompt, formative feedback; by shrinking the pile of papers, Gradient eases the overwhelming workload and grants K-12 instructors more time to improve learning outcomes for their classes.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?
Two years ago, I was a virtual tutor for a group of 11th grade AP U.S. History students, advising them on biweekly essays in preparation for their year-end exams. The students were motivated by our feedback and grateful for the one-on-one attention; meanwhile, the teacher was effusive because we were improving her students’ writing and enabling her to focus on the neediest kids. This small intervention made a big impact, so I pursued a venture that could scale this successful model.

How will your venture change the world?
As a presidential candidate in 2007, Barack Obama declared that “the single most important factor determining student success…is who their teacher is.” Whatever our politics, we can all agree that teachers matter. If a venture could solve a central problem for 3.7 million educators and their respective students, it would be transformational.

For K-12 teachers, that problem is “time poverty,” but Gradient has a solution: challenge the damaging narrative that teachers are supposed to grade entire classrooms on their own. The “isolated teacher” is an antiquated concept, a relic of the bygone one-room schoolhouse era, and it is time to break the bottleneck. A teacher’s role goes far beyond grading.

When teachers don’t receive assistance, they may leave the profession altogether: a 2012 study reported that 40-50% of those who enter teaching leave within five years. The educators who stay face significant challenges: in a 2015 Scholastic survey, teachers listed “not enough time collaborating with colleagues, “my class size is too big,” and “not enough instructional time with my students” as three major difficulties. Our venture addresses these negatives by maximizing teacher time.

Simultaneously, this venture serves the students. Rather than wait weeks for teacher comments, students receive immediate feedback, which is instrumental to their improvement. In addition, students can become better writers by submitting multiple drafts for review, a scenario that is implausible with a solitary teacher.

Fun Facts: During an undergrad playoff game, the School of Dentistry softball team broke my jaw.