Parents Say LAUSD's Virtual Learning Spending Spree Had Mixed Results

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Parents Say LAUSD's Virtual Learning Spending Spree Had Mixed Results

In the sprint to remake education during the pandemic, Los Angeles Unified School District armed half a million students with internet and devices to stay connected, but experts and parents said that its efforts to teach online sometimes fell short and left students behind.

Parents complained of edtech apps that were hard to hear in some cases or ones that were so cumbersome their children avoided them altogether. Some were age inappropriate, being used for elementary age students who had a hard time navigating them.

dot.LA spoke with a half a dozen parents and teachers about the district's effort to build thousands of virtual classrooms across the sprawling district.


Records obtained by dot.LA show the district spent $390 million in emergency funds for its COVID response from March 2020 to April 2021. More than half was spent on tech like laptops, tablets and hotspots and a lab to process COVID tests. Included in that is $23.4 million in spending on several licenses for edtech apps like Edgenuity, Discovery, Rosetta Stone, Blackboard and Edpuzzle.

While many of the edtech apps the district purchased helped students learn, some parents said others were boring and caused frustration.

One parent group gave its own training for parents to help their children connect to their online classes.

The district has not responded to inquiries from dot.LA about their process. But experts said in the speed in which the process took place what was often left unanswered was how the district chose educational apps.

"As an educational technologist, I am in favor of resources being spent on technology. However, there needs to be a transparent process in place," said Tim Green, a professor of educational technology at California State University Fullerton.

An LAUSD spokesperson said the district sought input from teachers and administrators, surveying more than 11,000 people to determine which apps were being used and preferred by educators. The apps were also evaluated to determine whether they met California's curriculum standards and student data privacy policies.

The spokesperson said professional development for the apps was offered to teachers. And resources were available for parents, including a hotline established to provide consultations with live agents. The agents helped families learn how to use tech and virtual apps.

There remain questions about how the district determined which apps to purchase, including whether teachers, parents and students were involved in the decision-making and whether the district provided professional development to help teachers navigate these apps.

But several parents said they were left on their own to help their kids with their assignments at home using these tools.

Parent advocacy organization SpeakUp stepped in and conducted training for parents on how to use Zoom and other tech. They did this because many low-income parents had never accessed the technology before and in many cases didn't speak English, causing huge barriers to navigating the technology, SpeakUP spokesperson Jenny Hontz said.

"We walked parents through that step by step, but the district did not put many resources toward tech proficiency training. And we were only able to help a limited number of parents with our resources," she said, adding that the group had no funding for this.

Hontz said the district spending on devices and hotspots was essential.

Sonia Sanchez, who has three children in LAUSD schools, said an app called Newsela, which helps students with reading comprehension using news articles, was particularly helpful and enjoyable for her kids.

But, she added, Edgenuity was just the opposite.

Sanchez said her son in high school would postpone anything that had to do with Edgenuity, an online curriculum software for K-12 students, because it was going to take him a long time to get through it.

"They dreaded it," she said of all of her kids.

She said the app is educational and has informative lessons, but for her younger children, it was dull. Moreover, she said teachers didn't follow up with their students about what they learned because the entire lesson and assignment was built into the program. Sanchez said she was lucky enough to be able to sit down with her children as they went through lessons to help because she works part-time from home.

Edgenuity is used by school districts across the nation. A BuzzFeed investigation found that during the first year of the pandemic, more than 500 public school districts purchased the Arizona-based company's software, signing contracts that totaled $145 million.

Deborah Rayow, Edgenuity's vice president for instructional design and learning science, told NBC News that its software wasn't designed for the pandemic and it's up to schools to give live instruction.

LAUSD has been using Edgenuity for years for students to make up courses they didn't pass, known as credit recovery. During the pandemic, teachers turned to it as an online teaching platform.

In August, Meghan Gohil enrolled his son in the district's online independent study program through a district school named City of Angels. It was the only way Gohil could keep his 11-year-old son, who can't get vaccinated, enrolled in the district and learning at home. State legislation prevented school districts from holding Zoom classes similar to what was offered when campuses were closed.

"As much complaining as everybody did about Zoom, it was far superior to what they're doing now," Gohil said.

Edgenuity is the program used by City of Angels to facilitate online learning. Gohil and his son came up with a list of problems they've encountered with the software from poor sound quality on some videos to its focus on the amount of time a student has spent on a lesson rather than comprehension.

When asked whether he's going to re-enroll his student at his regular school in Sherman Oaks after his son is vaccinated, Gohil said, "Hell yeah."

He said it looks like his son, normally a straight A student, is going to get a B this semester.

Students across the nation ended the pandemic school year behind. A study by McKinsey & Co. found that elementary students ended the 2020-21 school year four to five months academically behind. And the findings were more dire for Black and Latino students.

In a statement, Edgenuity said it experienced challenges as it quickly scaled to accommodate many more students than it initially expected.

"But in every case, we recognize our role as education and curriculum partners for our school customers comes with great responsibility, and that's why we have worked with our stakeholders to learn from the last academic year and distill those valuable lessons and insights to inform how we have worked with schools as we entered this third interrupted school year," the company said.

It also said it directly worked with LAUSD to provide tools, resources and support.

Gayle Bigyan said her daughters who are in 5th and 6th grades have had positive experiences with edtech apps, including Newsela, Nearpod, Amplify and XtraMath.

"Both of my daughters' reading comprehension, analytical thinking have gotten a lot better because of those platforms, because they used them every day," she said.

She said her fifth grade daughter is now at the top of her class and Bigyan credits the apps in part for getting her there.

She wants teachers to continue using technology even as classes are now in-person.

Teachers also said they also found apps like Newsela and Nearpod beneficial.

Parent Rebecca Cunningham said she wasn't surprised the district spent millions on tech, but she wants the district to be thoughtful on what it will spend going forward.

"Sometimes you throw everything against the wall and see what sticks," she said. "But we need to make sure that we don't just renew those contracts just because. But, instead, we really need to evaluate and find out from the teachers what they are actually using, and what they know how to use."

IXL Learning announced last week LAUSD has renewed its contract with the edtech company, which is used to supplement math and English lessons. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The LAUSD spokesperson said it will evaluate which apps it will continue to use.

"We will continue to monitor the needs of our communities and leverage renewal options accordingly," they said. " Regular meetings are held with each digital tool vendor to discuss usage, professional development, and needed implementation support."
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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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