Earlier this year we led Marco Learning’s seed round of financing. The thesis behind our investment is simple: in a test-optional world, the signals of a student’s college readiness are scarcer and, some might argue, less meritocratic. Marco Learning addresses this inequity by helping students from all backgrounds better prepare for college and demonstrate their ability to perform college-level work.
A compelling argument can be made that test-optional has created a college admissions process in which the algorithm for admission is now more opaque and subjective. My late advisor Elliot Eisner called these unspoken expectations of success the “hidden curriculum” that inherently biases toward those privileged enough to have access to the social capital and networks where such knowledge can be imparted. In the context of admissions, that means access to high-priced tutors, private college admissions counselors, or family members who went to college.
At Reach, we aim to back startups that make the hidden curriculum visible. Marco does this by partnering with schools to support teachers and develop students’ academic skills, and by speaking directly to students via social media — on the tips, secrets, and otherwise insider information around Advanced Placement (AP) and college admissions. Among teachers, Marco has developed a reputation for producing high-quality resources that are fresh, easy to use and always relevant to whatever problems they’re facing at the moment, whether that be remote learning, diversity, AI, or low engagement.
What initially caught our attention about Marco is that the team came from The Princeton Review, a preeminent provider of test preparation and college readiness support. Founded by one of the leading teachers there, John Moscatiello, Marco Learning’s team of all-star teachers and curriculum designers truly understand how to engage and motivate students. (John continues to teach part-time in a classroom as a model of this foundational value of the business). With Marco, they bring that same level of high engagement to school curriculum, teacher support, and writing feedback in America’s public schools. Rather than cater to wealthy students, like so many other test prep companies, Marco offers free and low-cost resources and provides support directly through schools all over the country to help prepare students for AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework and college-level writing.
As college admissions confusion grows and schooling becomes more fragmented, the need for standardized signals of instructional rigor will rise. These signals are needed both by parents who are seeking out more diverse educational settings (i.e., homeschooling, microschools, private, alternative, virtual schools), and by overwhelmed college admissions counselors who must discern if an applicant is prepared to be successful at their institution.
College-level coursework (AP, IB, Dual Enrollment) is currently the most prevalent standardized evidence of college readiness. While some private schools have the luxury to opt out of AP/IB, the numbers nationwide are undeniable: last year, 70% of U.S. high schools offered AP coursework, and 34% of high school students took an AP class and received at least a 3, which can help them earn college course credit. AP is growing most rapidly in low-income communities and helps close the “excellence gap” between high-performing and faltering schools, where students have fewer pathways to college.
At the time of investment, Marco was serving more than 200,000 students across 500 schools including several large public districts (Chicago Public Schools) and charter school networks (KIPP, Success Academy, and Noble). We loved that the Marco team came from the consumer sector and brings high-quality customer service to public school teachers. This obsession with quality has led to 250 5-star Google reviews from students and teachers.
This investment will enable Marco to expand their partnerships with schools and parents. Currently, one of Marco’s most popular offerings is writing feedback. Marco handles between 5,000-10,000 essay reviews per week, giving students more frequent feedback cycles without further overwhelming teachers. We’re excited for Marco to deepen their writing support in the age of AI and expand their high-quality curriculum beyond the scope of AP.
One of the keys to Marco’s early success is their student-friendly approach. While Marco is currently focused on supporting schools and districts, they have a strong social media presence on TikTok and YouTube. With over 40 million views on TikTok, 5 million views on YouTube, and more than 100,000 social media subscribers, Marco is able to connect with students in a powerful way.
At Reach, we search for customer-obsessed teams that are tackling obstacles standing in the way of opportunity. If a student is ready and hungry for more rigorous college-level coursework, they should have access to it. We’re excited to be working with John and the Marco team as they support students in achieving their goals.