Big Brother Takes Over
Ohanian Comment; This article is listed in the Business Day: Media & Advertising section, probably because the New York Times doesn't have a satire section. Interesting that this isn't published under education.
I admit I can't quite get my head around the creepiness. George Packer has written Upgrade or Die on the New Yorker blog, discussing the link between our new-technologies fetish and chronic economic inequality. Read it!
This is from the Amplify website:
Amplify is creating exciting new curriculum offerings that reinvent teaching and learning in English Language Arts, Science and Math. These products combine interactive, game-like experiences with rigorous analytics that align to the Common Core Standards, all driven by adaptive technologies that respond to individual students' needs as they evolve. These new learning experiences are being developed by a team at Wireless Generation, together with some leading partners such as Lawrence Hall of Science and Lapham's Quarterly.
I couldn't find out what on earth Lapham's Quarterly is doing as a Wireless Generation partner, so I wrote and asked.
There is a huge creep factor here. Of course the device game that lets students stage a battle between Tom Sawyer and the Bronte sisters caught eye, but the real creep factor is the Big Brother technology:
If a child's attention wanders, a stern "yes on teacher" prompt pops up. A quiz uses emoticons of smiley and sad faces so teachers can instantly gauge which students understand the lesson and which need help.
When hubris-on-steroids columnist Thomas Friedman gets his way and lessons are delivered via computer to thousands, then the Wireless Generation device will deliver the data on student attention to whomever wants to buy it. Third grader Johnny's monthly report will read:
32,846 smiley faces
19,367 sad faces
Or vice versa.
The report will come through e-mail. There won't be any teachers left to give it to parents.
See Amplify the Bottom Line (Through Excellence) by EduShyster.com: Keeping an eye on the corporate education agenda.
News Corp. Has a Tablet for Schools
By Amy Chozick
For nearly two years, Joel I. Klein helped Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation weather a phone-hacking scandal at the company's British tabloids with the promise that he would eventually be able to return to the role the company hired him for: to spearhead News Corporation's new venture into the public school market. That day has finally come.
On Wednesday at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Tex., Mr. Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools and the current chief executive of Amplify, News Corporation's fledgling education division, will take the stage for a surprising announcement. Amplify will not sell just its curriculum on existing tablets, but will also offer the Amplify Tablet, its own 10-inch Android tablet for K-12 schoolchildren.
In addition to tablets and curriculum, Amplify will also provide schools with infrastructure to store students' data.
"When I left I was convinced of two things," Mr. Klein said of his tenure as chancellor of New York schools. "If we didn't see a dramatic technological change, we were not going to be able to move this country forward," and "second of all, that the private sector had to get much, much more involved."
An early look at the Amplify tablet revealed a sleek touch screen with material floating against a simple background. If a child's attention wanders, a stern "yes on teacher" prompt pops up. A quiz uses emoticons of smiley and sad faces so teachers can instantly gauge which students understand the lesson and which need help.
"We wanted to use the language of the Web," said Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify Access, the division that produces the tablet, which is manufactured by Asus.
At first, the tablet will be targeted at middle-school children. It uses what educators call a "blended learning" model that mixes technology with old-fashioned teaching. Amplify designed the tablet so that schools can provide each student with one to take home each night.
Outside the classroom, children can use it to play games, like one in which Tom Sawyer battles the BronteÂ« sisters.
"There's a huge opportunity if you can get kids excited about educational games," Mr. Klein said. "You can change the learning curve."
In November, Amplify began testing its tablet in hundreds of public schools nationwide, and in December it explained the venture to investors. The introduction on Wednesday began a full-court press by Amplify's sales force. A preloaded tablet, training and customer care (largely from former teachers) starts at $299, along with a two-year subscription for $99 a year. A higher-end Amplify Tablet Plus, for students who do not have wireless access at home, comes with a 4G data plan and costs $349.
Amplify estimates that many school districts could use grants from the Education Department's Race to the Top program, which brings technology and personalized learning to schools.
"We understand technology and we understand education," Mr. Klein said. "A lot of people who understand technology don't understand education."
In the eight years Mr. Klein served as chancellor of New York schools, he pushed educators to adopt new technology, often drawing accolades and controversy along the way. He remains a prominent voice in education reform, and Amplify carries with it both his friendships and clashes with educators.
"Joel was always talking about how to eliminate teachers and make it about a child in front of a computer screen," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
("Did textbooks lead to larger classrooms and fewer teachers? No," Mr. Klein says.)
Now that he is in the private sector, some of Mr. Klein's advocacy work presents a conflict, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Last year Mr. Klein wrote, with Condoleezza Rice, a Council on Foreign Relations report that called the state of United States schools a "grave national security threat." He contributed $25,000 to a coalition that supported specific candidates for the Los Angeles Board of Education elections held on Tuesday. (A News Corporation subsidiary also contributed to candidates.)
"You can't at the same time go out and present yourself as a civic citizen talking about how public schools right now are horrible and then say, 'Oh, I have a product that is going to make it better,'" Ms. Weingarten said. (She added that she saw "real potential" in devices designed specifically for schoolchildren.)
Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Amplify, said, "Joel has long been a big supporter of education reform efforts" and "will continue to support candidates." ( Hamilton's last day as chief megaphone for U. S. Department of Education propaganda was Nov. 30, 2012)
In the private sector, Mr. Klein, who also serves as an executive vice president of News Corporation, faces the challenge of being a part of Mr. Murdoch's media conglomerate. The company still faces civil lawsuits related to phone hacking.
Mr. Klein joined News Corporation in January 2011. In 2010, the company paid $360 million for a 90 percent stake in Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based company specializing in data and assessment tools for teachers.
The crisis in Britain soon seeped into its new education business. In 2011, the New York State comptroller, citing "the significant ongoing investigations and continuing revelations with respect to News Corporation," rejected a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation.
"I'm very concerned about them tracking children or using their data because they've proven not to be very trustworthy on that," Mr. Mulgrew said.
Mr. Klein says challenges exist when any "high-visibility company" tries to work in the K-12 realm. "The company dealt with the phone-hacking thing with enormous praise from Lord Leveson," he said, referring to an inquiry into British press ethics led by Brian Leveson.
The Amplify Tablet enters a market crowded with competitors trying to tap into K-12 classrooms, which spend around $3 billion a year on traditional textbooks, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Comcast's NBCUniversal has a service called NBC Learn that uses material from NBC News. Apple has sold thousands of iPads to schools and analysts expect K-12 to become a larger piece of its business. Barnes & Noble and Amazon have both positioned their e-reader devices as options for schools.
"In many ways Amplify is a start-up in this space," said Jonathan D. Harber, chief executive of Pearson's K-12 technology group. Pearson offers troves of digital curriculum but does not make its own tablet.
This summer, when News Corporation splits into two separate publicly traded companies, Amplify will join the publishing division, which includes newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins, which will lend Amplify some of its content.
Because of its investment in building the new business, the division will have an estimated $180 million in operational losses this year.
Mr. Klein says he expects the Amplify tablets to eventually contribute 40 percent of the division's revenue. Amplify's curriculum, including video games as elaborate as anything played on an Xbox, is expected to contribute another 40 percent.
"The ultimate goal of this is to turn students into readers," said Damien Yambo, a producer on the Tom Sawyer game and a former public-school teacher in Detroit. The games, he added, must also compete with Angry Birds.
Amy Chozick with Susan Ohanian notes
New York Times