An Interview with David Cumberbatch: Returning to School Early

Jun 18, 2020 by

ECS Learning

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) David, first of all, can you tell us about who you are and what you do?

David Cumberbatch brings over 20 years of experience in the Technology and Education sectors with the last 14 years of his career focused on education technology business models.

Mr. Cumberbatch is the President and CEO of ECS Learning Systems . He has raised over $5 million in capital, and $5million in debt, to acquire and modernize the assets of the two platform companies (ECS Learning Systems, Inc. and Prepworks, LLC) that constitute ECS Learning Systems today. He founded Asteria Education Inc. in March 2017 as a Texas C Corp to build a scaled education technology company with significant strategic value and exit potential within 7 years. Today ECS serves an estimated 600,000 students in multiple states with a strong market position in the state of Texas, and a proprietary, award-winning, computer adaptive learning platform.

Mr. Cumberbatch is an Advising Partner at Apogee Equity Partners, a boutique private equity fund focused on the education technology and healthcare sectors. Mr. Cumberbatch is also a Senior Advisor to New Markets Ventures, and a member of the board of advisors for Village Capital (an early stage education technology incubator based in DC). He served as the Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President at K 12 Inc. from 2014 to 2016. He also served as the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of ACT Inc. (the leader in college and career readiness assessment in the US) from 2011 to 2014. At ACT,  Mr. Cumberbatch was involved in the digitization efforts of the ACT test, the launch of ACT Aspire for 3rd to 9th grade students, the development of ACT Profile, and the creation of the AVT corporate venturing department.

Mr. Cumberbatch has held leadership positions with the startups such as Imagitas and Simpletuition. Prior to that, he played an instrumental role at Microsoft Corporation, where his business development work was featured in Fortune magazine. He also served as a Brand Manager of Procter Gamble in Europe, and Latin America.

Mr. Cumberbatch earned a BA in Computing and Economics (Double Major, First Class) from the University of Kent at Canterbury, and an MPhil in Management Studies from the University of Oxford where he attended as a Rhodes Scholar.  He began his working life as an Assistant Teacher in the public school system of his native Trinidad and Tobago and remains passionate about the potential for technology to transform global education He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons.


2) Obviously COVID-19 has impacted schools, teachers, parents and the way we do education. What is YOUR biggest concern?

My biggest concern is that the impact will be disproportionately felt by the underserved 50%. We have heard reports that many school districts have have lost contact with over 40% of their student body during the school closures.

3) Now how are you trying to help?

We decided in May that we needed to accelerate our digitization efforts to advance our mission of helping ALL students achieve academic success. We partnered with Magic Software to roll out eBook versions of our best -selling STAAR MASTER line of offerings which serve over 400,000 Texas students annually. Over 70% minority. These eBooks will roll out in July to help schools with Summer and early school start programs. These programs are intended to remediate the impacts of an extended summer slide – now called the “COVID slide”, where some students are expected to be 3-4 months behind on state standards readiness. We are offering FREE implementation and prior grade eBooks to schools that partner with us before Aug 1st.

4) Bottom line- at least in my mind-is internet access—if a family or student does not have internet access- they are at a major disadvantage- how do you help?

This is a critical issue. We are helping by ensuring that our new eBooks will work offline. Once the eBooks are downloaded onto the devices at the school, the student can continue to work on them at home with or without broadband.  The student’s work can be synched once they are back at the school or have broadband access.

5) Even with some minimal internet access at the local library or McDonald’s or wherever, students are still not getting 100 percent instruction- how do we have to change things?

Offline access to content is critical. We have to provide solutions that work in today’s infrastructure.

6) Special education- and all that goes along with it—occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech language services etc. etc. How have they been impacted?

These have been severely impacted as virtual teaching is not ideal for many of these students. I believe that alternative schooling arrangements will have to prioritize these students (e.g. after school, shift system, early start…) when students return to make up for lost time.

7) I have heard a lot of school districts talking about re-opening early (giving some parents a real break). What have you heard?

This is what we have heard from many districts. Some are looking to start early August, others are considering optional or even mandatory summer programs in July for at risk students. I whole heartedly support this effort as the effects of a lost semester will be significant for years to come for most of these adversely impacted students.

When schools reopen there is also a lot of talk about shift systems and using High school buildings for younger students to ensure social distancing is maintained. High schoolers may remain virtual to accommodate this. As usual, socio-economically disadvantaged kids will be more impacted by any of these alternative proposals.

8) What have I neglected to ask?

How do we elevate this discussion? In the light of the recent protests, and as an African American CEO serving a majority minority K-12 system, I see that the future of America is majority brown. Protests help garner attention, but we also need to highlight initiatives to address the problems. Education is the great equalizer. Leveraging digital solutions and AI for learning hold significant promise to ensure that every child gets a fair chance to maximize his or her potential and build a better America.

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