Jake Neuberg and Ramit Varma (pictured, left) met at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business where they realized that while they both had business backgrounds, they’d also both spent significant time as SAT prep tutors, Jake at Kaplan and Ramit at Princeton Review. They also realized they both felt that something was missing from the big tutoring companies. So Jake and Ramit came up with an idea … a revolutionary idea. Together, they decided to start a new test prep company, one that was completely different from the two market leaders. In just a few years, Revolution Prep became the leading SAT and ACT test prep company in California; today, they’re No. 3 in the multi-billion dollar test prep market, but they still manage to maintain the attitude and work ethic of the scrappy underdog they used to be. In this interview, they share what’s tested them—and what they’ve learned as a result.
Ramit: We founded Revolution Prep because we felt there was an opportunity to enable smarter learning in America’s Youth. Our methods and technology are geared toward unlocking the powerful forces of curiousity, creativity, and ingenuity lying dormant in our students.
Victor: When was it developed? Could you share something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Jake: We started using our learning methods more than 15 years ago, in the SAT tutoring area. As we started seeing greater and greater results, we developed technology based on our methods. In 2006, we responded to an RFP for ‘customized learning’ tools. We responded to the RFP with the first truly web-based, adaptive learning tool. Of the 41 companies submitting their products, we were 1 of 3 chosen. Since then, we have been in a state of continuous improvement on that core product and now have the hands-down best solution for increasing Algebra and Geometry scores district-wide.
Victor: How does your test prep differ from others in the market?
Ramit: Our test prep programs are based on developing critical reasoning and analytical thinking skills. My business partner and I were teachers for Princeton Review and Kaplan, and felt both programs were too focused on ‘tricks and traps’ for the day of the test – obviously geared toward improving outcomes by ‘tricking’ the test. At Revolution, we focus on developing student’s skills and we find that improved student outcomes are based on their greater confidence with the core subject material, critical reasoning skills, and endurance and intensity on test day. Their improved scores are based on greater skill and therefore we can expect larger gains than our competitors and an approach to learning that extends into the classroom.
Victor: What can you tell us about Revolution K12?
Jake: Revolution K12 is a set of programs that deliver on the promise of our name. We have created a powerful diagnostic, prescriptive and adaptive tool for teachers to enhance their instruction, and in turn the performance of their students. Because math education is cumulative, often students have skill gaps when they enter an Algebra I class, for example. Further, those gaps are different for each student. From the teachers’ side of things, the focus on standards-driven instruction and pacing guides is sounding a relentless drum forcing teachers to move through the material whether their students understand it or not. These two factors combined are asking teachers to do the impossible. We should be celebrating our teachers for any outcomes they are generating in the face of these factors, not demonizing them for fighting a losing battle when they haven’t been given the proper tools to achieve the outcomes we set. It’s like asking a surgeon to properly diagnose and treat a patient by only performing surgery and by using her ‘intuition’ instead of using an X-ray machine. Revolution K12’s programs and tools allow teachers to identify and fill skill gaps exhibited by their students—easily and in real time.
Victor: What are some examples of Revolution K12 in action?
Ramit: There are so many examples of schools across the country using Revolution K12 to help teachers deliver differentiated and blended instruction. A number of schools in LAUSD use Revolution K12 with great results. Heritage College-Ready Academy, for example, used Revolution K12 to help increase CAHSEE proficiency 43 percent in its first year. CRAHS #11 used our Algebra software to help increase Algebra proficiency by 150 percent. Teachers at Granada Hills Charter High School in the San Fernando Valley used Revolution K12 to power differentiated instruction to achieve their highest levels ever of proficient and above students. The Birdville Independent School District in Texas is yet another example of teachers using Revolution K12 software to help prepare students for the PSAT and these students are seeing an average score increase of more than double their peers who do not use the program.
Victor: Since its founding, how has the company grown?
Jake: Since founding the company, we have grown in incredible leaps and bounds. Today, we work with more than 200,000 students per year in Revolution K12 programs, and more than 50,000 students per year in our SAT/ACT business.
What exactly is your point of view about technology and how it can be used to serve underserved communities?
Ramit: Technology is a tool that offers immediate support to parents, civic leaders, teachers and school administrators in urban districts. It offers an opportunity for students to connect to worlds far beyond their own neighborhood and to access the skills and talents which are so vital to career, college and vocational and collegiate aspirations.
Jake: It is our deeply-held belief that technology is inextricably linked to the quality of life in an entire community. It should be understood as an accelerator for the improvement of individual lives, as well as community building.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Jake: I have never been more optimistic about the future of education in our country. It is easy to look at the problems and lose hope, but when we look at an entire generation of learners, and an entirely new world of tools available, we see that once the learners and the tools are brought together, we can drive in a new age of learning and innovation.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Revolution Prep?
Ramit: Every student in every high school in our country needs to be given the opportunity to pursue college. If we are not preparing students for the rigors of college, then we have not done our jobs. Some students need help in multiple areas, while some students are missing specific skills in one content area. All incoming freshman should be assessed so they are getting the help they need before they get into higher grades and poor performance affects the colleges they can apply for and get into. Revolution K12 provides the tools and content needed to help students advance to higher-level learning.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: [email protected]