Almost a decade after Lynzi Ziegenhagen began work on tools to help K-12 schools with data analysis and visualization, she faced an important decision.
For her Schoolzilla company to continue to grow, it needed a larger sales division. Raising money and building that team internally wasn’t the ideal situation. “That would have taken too much work and too much time,” says Ziegenhagen. So she opened the Oakland, Calif.-based company up for acquisition talks.
Schoolzilla, the company perhaps best known for its Mosaic dashboard product, has found a new home with Renaissance Learning, a Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc.-based provider of instructional software and formative assessment tools that is on a buying spree. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Schoolzilla’s life began in 2009 as a project within Aspire Public Schools, a charter network with schools across California and in Memphis. It spun Schoolzilla out as an independent company in 2013. Three years later, Schoolzilla made an acquisition of its own with Decision Science Labs, a school spending tracker.
Today, Schoolzilla’s data-driven dashboards use multiple sources of student data, including attendance, suspensions and grades, to monitor progress toward school and district goals. Schoolzilla claims its tools help address issues like absenteeism, course failures and disproportionality in suspensions.
The company has also survived the risks that come along with storing sensitive information. In 2017, an independent researcher discovered a flaw in how Schoolzilla stored personal information including test scores and social security numbers. The company said afterward that it found no evidence that any information was improperly accessed. It lost no customers due to the discovered flaw and constantly improves its technology and security, Ziegenhagen says.
To date, Schoolzilla raised a total of $10 million from investors that include Kapor Capital, Reach Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund and Serious Change LP. It's grown to 30 full-time employees serving 140 school districts across 31 states. School districts that use Schoolzilla include Jamestown Public Schools in New York, Battle Creek Public Schools in Michigan and Inglewood Unified School District in California.
The acquisition marks an expansion in Renaissance’s offerings. In the past, it’s focused on pairing assessments with digital instructional materials. Founded in 1986, the company is perhaps best known for its Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math programs, along with its STAR formative assessments that help teachers and students prepare for their end-of-year state exams. The company claims to service a third of U.S. schools and more than 90 countries.
According to Renaissance’s chief product officer, Todd Brekhus, the company made the purchase to marry its assessment data with Schoolzilla’s products focused on existing school data so that school leaders can have more information when developing strategies around helping students and reaching school and district goals.
Both companies already share enough customers to make integration simple, he adds. “This was a top request from school administrators—to make our data more connected with their data,” Brekhus says. Schoolzilla “found an easy way to make this real. That’s why we wanted to bring it in house.”
This marks Renaissance’s fourth acquisition in about 17 months. The company bought the myON digital reading platform in March 2018. In April 2019, Renaissance acquired progress monitoring tools provider Early Learning Labs, followed a month later by buying Freckle Education, a provider of online lessons, exercises and assessments for math, English language arts, social studies and science.
Because other companies contract with Schoolzilla, this acquisition also opens up more partnership possibilities for Renaissance, Brekhus says. His company has already started a partnership with published Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to deliver personalized textbook and assessment offerings, combining HMH math and reading programs with STAR Reading and STAR Math. Brekhus expects five to 10 more partnerships in the next couple years.
Renaissance, owned by private equity firm Francisco Partners, is still open to future acquisitions. Brekhus says Schoolzilla will gain access to his 180 sellers worldwide, 155 of them in the U.S., to help grow Schoolzilla further. For Renaissance, the addition of Schoolzilla will help the conglomerate create a comprehensive product package to expand its footprint in the U.K., its fastest growing market after China. Today, most of Renaissance’s business is in the U.S.
“We’re not seeing this as the finish line,” says Ziegenhagen. “We’ve finished the first lap around the track.”