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Mark Angel, CEO of Amira Learning, Responds to Amira's Merger with Istation

by Photo of Mark Angel, CEO of Amira Learning Mark Angel, CEO of Amira Learning on June 11, 2024

Topics: News and Events

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Here’s why I believe the combination of Amira and Istation will ultimately matter to you…

When I was a kid, my family moved almost every year. But there was one constant – every neighborhood had a library nearby. I’d spend most after-school evenings reading, engrossed with my always-available friends like The Three Musketeers and Encyclopedia Brown. What I didn't appreciate then: not all kids in my situation loved reading the way I did.  

It was years later when the degree to which I’d bucked the odds dawned on me:

  • 2 in 3 fourth graders aren’t proficient readers.
  • 80% of ELLs struggle mightily with literacy.
  • Only 15% of 6th grade boys say they like reading. 

Another penny soon dropped: my love for reading was the single biggest predictor that I’d have meaningful opportunities in life. The more I learned about what matters on our life journey, the more critical fixing the reading crisis seemed.

So, after a career in AI tech, I made a commitment to building better, smarter tools to help students become masterful and motivated readers.  As head of technology and products at Renaissance Learning, my terrific teams worked on some worthwhile apps – like Accelerated Reader & Star Reading.    But the tech we had at our disposal was simply too weak to genuinely aid teachers or accelerate student growth.

A bunch of us decided we’d try a different tack – a reading tutor powered by AI and the Science of Reading.   Employing 25 years of research at Carnegie Mellon, we launched Amira.  Collaborating with some of the world’s best reading scientists, like Nell Duke, David Francis and Katie Miles, we trained Amira to be solidly trained in Science of Reading.

The results so far have been amazing.   Almost 2 million students have seen accelerated reading growth:  the data from State Departments of Ed show effect sizes around .45.  Randomized Control Trials consistently show Amira outperforming human tutors.

Which brings us to today: Amira has joined forces with Istation.  

We’ve learned one thing above all, as Amira has listened to students read billions and billions of words.  If we can’t deeply engage a child in learning, we can’t help a child learn. If reading isn’t fun, it isn’t happening.

Our formula has been AI + SoR = Growth.  It’s a good formula, but it has some missing ingredients.   And so, we’re creating a revolutionary combination.  Istation has spent many years creating incredible, motivating instructional content.  Istation is famous for bringing the fun.   We’ll be finding ways to put Amira’s tutoring and Istation’s content together in ways that are going to astonish you and help you turn far more children into joyful readers.

We’re doing this for one other reason as well. We believe in a flywheel.
A flywheel is a self-reinforcing cycle that drives continuous growth and improvement. We are convinced that with AI we can create a flywheel that changes everything:

  1. The more students that work with the AI tutor,
  2. The more we learn about how students learn.
  3. And, the more we learn, the better the AI instructor gets at both delivering growth and engagement.
  4. The more growth the AI instructor produces, the more students that educators put on the software.
  5. The more engaging the learning process is, the more time kids want to spend with the AI tutor.

And, round the flywheel flies.

Istation is vital to making this flywheel spin. Istation has scale – more than 2 million students are using Istation apps. Istation has reach – LEA’s and SEA’s have trusted the Istation team for years. Istation has content chops – we know that working in collaboration we can deliver AI that students love.

In short, Amira + Istation is going to create what you have been looking for: reading applications that deliver enormous gains via the Science of Reading + Fun + AI.

I’m privileged to be able to work with the great folks who have pioneered reading edtech at Istation. And, I can’t wait to show you what we will build for your students.