Digital classroom supports developed in Buffalo

Feb 27, 2017

A company in downtown Buffalo creates and provides digitized learning programs for teachers to advance K-through 12-education. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley visited PLS 3rd Learning, a spin-off company from the University at Buffalo. 

Donald Jacobs is an education with over 30-years of experience. Ten years ago he left his job at UB to open PLS 3rd Learning where he now serves as CEO.

PLS 3rd Learning, Main Street, Buffalo, NY.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The company is located in newly renovated space on Main Street in the city's Theater District. That’s where software is developed for K-through 12-learning.  Jacobs tells WBFO News, here in New York State they have clients in about 100-school districts. The company also has more than 800-clients in Texas as well as the Pennsylvania's Department of Education.

"And I know that the great majority of teachers are really struggling, doing well, but it is a continual struggle to get to that notion of how you individualize instruction,” Jacobs explained.

WBFO asked Jacobs to describe how the programs actually work in a classroom.

“I’ll give you one example in Texas we have a project that was built about five years ago. We have about 220,000 Texas teachers that log into our system every day and it’s called the TEKS Resource System and they have access to digital curriculum materials, digital assessments, things like curriculum mapping,” Jacobs replied.       

With the many challenges teachers are facing in teaching Common Core, these digital learning tools provide a fix.

“If a teacher is a seventh grade math teacher and wants to understand what the standards are in New York State, and what those look like, and what the standards really are – what the student needs to know or be able to do – go on to one of our sites – and in this case in New York State it is called NYLearns and they’ll find the standard they find what particular math standards are required in seventh grade,” Jacobs remarked. 

PLS 3rd Learning conference room.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

As you walk throughout the offices of PLS 3rd Learning you will find groups of people working together in conference rooms, brainstorming on white boards – they’re helping to create the digital learning material that will be used in classrooms.  

“And they’ll jot ideas down on the white board and that’s the daily work here,” said Jacobs.

“We at high stakes assessment, accountability and everyone needs to be accountable to each other,” stated Michael Horning Jr., executive vice president.

Horning also left UB ten years ago to start up the company with Jacobs. Horning was asked to describe the challenges educators are facing.

Inside the hall way of PLS 3rd Learning.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Well I think it is the greater challenges in public education today. You know you have shifting education standards and expectations, you have new legislation around teacher and principal evaluation systems and expectations are very high,” responded Horning. “So I think we’re all in the common goals of what we want to achieve it’s just the various challenges along the way.”

“It’s a tough time to be a teacher. There’s targets on their back. I think my humble opinion – it is a misplaced target. This is a tough profession. Children come with lots and lots of needs,” Jacobs noted.

PLS 3rd Learning also has international clients and it is very profitable. The company generates $10-million in sales annually. There are about 60-full-time employees, with 40-located right in the downtown site.  The Main Street location even features a recording studio where material is narrated for the digital learning products.