Six hundred hours. According to entrepreneur Ian Cohen, that’s how much extra time special education teachers spend annually doing administrative tasks outside of the classroom. Helping those educators reclaim personal time and end the burnout which causes them to leave the profession are the issues his company, TARA Education Technologies, seeks to solve.
“We know teachers are overworked, but no one is doing anything about it. Everyone thinks it’s primarily a political problem,” says Cohen, 33, who grew up in Philadelphia and was himself a classroom teacher for two years after graduating from Emory University and working in the Teach For America program. Cohen has also done policy work and founded an education non-profit.
AJT interviewed Cohen in October 2020 not long after he began his company that has developed a software suite especially designed for educators. As Cohen explained, other professionals benefit from specialized tech tools. For example, sales and marketing professionals use SalesForce, and designers use Canva; but teachers have been forced to patch together spreadsheets and Microsoft Word or Google docs in order to stay organized and track student progress.
TARA fills this gap for teachers. In developing the TARA product, Cohen did his research, interviewing about 100 teachers to fully understand their unmet needs and then dedicating himself to learning the technology side. Equipped with an array of productivity tools, TARA allows teachers to quickly add student progress updates, track and share data and create visuals such as graphs. These digital tools give critical feedback on a teacher’s instructional method and, in turn, encourage best practices, resulting in a win for both teachers and their students.
Recently, TARA got a big boost by being selected as one of just 10 companies, out of a pool of 400 applicants, for a 2023 Techstars accelerator program, in partnership with Cox Enterprises, specifically focused on for-profit companies making a positive impact on underrepresented groups, underserved communities and environmental sustainability.
From January through April, Cohen and his business partner, Laura Jackson, participated in workshops, received mentoring, coaching sessions and networking opportunities, and were even given workspace in Techstars’ offices at Ponce City Market. They also received funding from the program, which culminated on Demo Day, April 13, with a chance to deliver a five-minute pitch in front of investors and other entrepreneurs.
“It was a huge honor to even be considered for the program,” said Cohen, adding that Demo Day was a phenomenal experience with a great turnout.
Tim Dorr, managing director of Techstars Atlanta, told the AJT: “Ian’s background as a teacher gave him a perfect founder-market fit. A business like TARA is only going to succeed with deep knowledge of the education system. Combine that with his incredible passion for making a difference and unstoppable drive to build an amazing company, it became an obvious choice to bring Ian and TARA into the program.”
TARA is primarily focused on special education teachers who have what Cohen calls “an outsized administrative burden.” Not only must they perform regular teacher tasks, but they also have a host of legal and instructional obligations, amounting to roughly four to five additional hours per day, forcing teachers to complete this work via overtime in the evening at home, adding up to hundreds of extra hours each year.
Cohen cited an Education Week survey that asked teachers what school and district leaders could do to keep them from leaving. After higher compensation, 43 percent said if the administrative burden could be reduced, that would be enough to keep them around. “That’s what TARA does,” said Cohen. “It focuses on reducing the workload by half with our tools.”
Now TARA is adding AI (artificial intelligence) features that will further increase efficiency by speeding up regular tasks like creating quizzes, lessons, worksheets and even enabling the teacher to customize curriculum, such as creating a writing prompt for a student with autism. Cohen says this high-quality AI assistant will be aligned to state standards and will save educators an enormous amount of time.
Cohen is excited about his company’s growth and the impact his tools can have on the education industry. In a recent point of pride, he says TARA has just signed on the Atlanta metro region of KIPP, the country’s largest public charter school network.
Additionally, Cohen is dedicated to not only seeking support and investment for his own company, but for invigorating the education technology space in Atlanta.
“Education is the foundation of any city, and it’s a massive industry, but there’s not much support or ecosystem for folks like ourselves in [Atlanta] right now, despite increased activity and capital for tech companies and startups. We’re trying to get people in this region to see the opportunity and the impact – that’s why it was so great to get Cox on board. Techstars really gives us a stamp of approval in a sense.”