Education Opinion

Dan Carroll, Founder and COO, Clever, Inc.

By Sara Mead — May 14, 2014 4 min read
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Schools are making increased use of technology to support student learning and assess students’ progress, often combining a variety of different offerings to meet their students’ and schools’ unique needs. Many of these technology applications have real potential to make teachers’ jobs easier or more efficient by generating data on student progress or streamlining assessment creation or data analysis tasks. But if these different offerings aren’t effectively integrated, teachers may not experience these benefits in practice. Dan Carroll founded Clever to address these challenges and make it easier for schools and teachers to use technology-based solutions and track and use the data from them. Raised in Ohio, Carroll 27, graduated from Harvard University, taught in Denver, Colo., as a Teach for America corps member, and served as a school technology director before launching Clever. While in Colorado, he became and avid skier and craft beer snob and, after losing a bet with a student, wore his hair briefly in a faux hawk. He currently lives in San Francisco

What does Clever do? What’s your elevator pitch?

Clever enables K-12 schools to take full advantage of the new world of digital learning by reinventing the set up, management and log in process for education software. Currently used by more than 1-in-7 schools in America, Clever automates manual and time consuming tasks such as student account creation, making it easy for schools to implement and maintain a wide variety of learning applications. Clever is supported by more than 100 leading education developers including Amplify, NWEA, and Imagine Learning.

How will this make a difference in public education?

As a teacher and then a tech director, I saw the potential technology has to empower teachers and help students learn at their own pace. But when I tried to bring learning applications to my classroom and schools, I found that the painful setup and management process created more work for teachers, not less. Clever takes care of all of that hassle for over 20,000 schools today, making teachers technology superheroes who never need to worry about creating accounts or resetting passwords.

What have been some of your biggest successes today?

Clever recently released Instant Login, an innovative new technology that lets teachers and students access all of their learning software with just one click - abolishing the need for separate usernames and passwords. Incredibly, over 1,000 schools rolled out Instant Login before we released it publicly, and our list of partner applications includes many of the most innovative companies in education.

What are the biggest challenges?

Clever’s biggest challenge is managing growth. During the busy back to school time, schools across the country all roll out new applications at the same time - and the Clever team has to scramble to keep up with them! At other times of the year, schools are less likely to try something new, so we have to come up with creative ideas to grow Clever’s usage.

How do you expect personalized learning to evolve in the next 5-10 years? How will things look different in a decade? What are the opportunities? What are the potential pitfalls?

Personalized learning will reduce the time students need to spend learning the basics - i.e. math skills and vocabulary - by letting students move on to the next thing as soon as they’ve mastered a standard. I’m excited by the ideas I hear from schools about what they will do beyond the basics - creative projects, experiential learning, “maker” labs, arts, and computer science (to name a few). While I believe that technology empowers teachers, I worry that mandates and top-down decision making could leave teachers feeling unsupported or threatened by personalized learning.

Why/how did you come to work in education?

I come from a long line of educators--my mom is an elementary school, my grandmother is a school librarian, and my grandfather is an art education professor. But what led me most directly to the classroom is the tutoring work I did in college as part of the Mission Hill Afterschool Program in Boston. The incredible students I met there inspired me to become a teacher.

Who are some of your heroes/mentors/people you respect whose examples shape your work?

My greatest inspiration has always come from the teachers I’ve had. In particular, two of my high school English teachers--Ms. Lamuth and Ms. Horger--pushed me to work hard and excel in a subject that was always my biggest challenge. I tried to live up to their example when I was in the classroom, and now go to work every day trying to make life easier for teachers like them.

What do you hope to be doing 5-10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished?

If I’m lucky, in ten years I’ll still be working on Clever, helping make learning easier for students everywhere. I can’t think of a more deserving problem to work on in the world.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.