Old School/News School
Last month, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchased Wireless Generation, an education technology firm that develops software and data systems for K-12 schools. The acquisition is the first foray of News Corp. into the education market and has many wondering at the potential effects for students and teachers.
Tapping a $500 Billion Market
Education is seen as a fundamental component of American democracy, but for some companies the system responsible for teaching the nation's youth also represents a massive market to which goods and services can be marketed.
In a landmark deal, the media conglomerate News Corp. has bought Wireless Generation, an ed tech company that serves more than three million students and 200,000 teachers throughout the United States. According to News Corp., 'When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.'
In recent years, 'technology' and 'innovation' have been big buzzwords in education. Reforms are seen as particularly necessary in the public system, which many view as failing American students. At the same time, No Child Left Behind legislation has created a market for assessments that capture measurable data of learning progress toward national education standards.
Wireless Generation has capitalized on this climate, forging public-private partnerships with schools that carry the goal of improving student learning. The company provides technology tools that gauge student progress in key areas and generate individualized instruction plans based on those results. Wireless Generation also produces data systems that capture vast amounts of student assessment data that can be used to provide a comprehensive picture of learners' progress toward education goals.
Wireless Generation's November sale to News Corp. surprised some, but others have noted a natural relationship between the two organizations. News Corp. owns numerous media companies, including ventures devoted to both print and electronic publishing. Many have noted the potential for great 'synergy' between the conglomerate's media and education holdings.
Implications for Education
The News Corp. takeover of Wireless Generation may have gone under the radar of some, but the sale was most definitely noted among educators. Many could not help noting the timing - the sale took place two weeks after New York City Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, announced he would be leaving to join News Corp. as head of a digital learning division. The New York City schools have very close ties with Wireless Generation, and some have identified potential ethics issues associated with Klein's hire and the ed tech firm's purchase by a single company.
Beyond potential improprieties, other concerns have been voiced about the deal. Chief among these is the increasing role of private companies in the schools. Some believe that big business should have no role in the work of educating America's kids. Others acknowledge that for-profit companies do have a role to play in education, but that their participation need be scrutinized. For example, some worry that News Corp. media products will garner favoritism in schools where Wireless Generation education products are also in place.
Valerie Strauss, in an article appearing on the site of The Washington Post, observes: 'The loyalty of for-profit companies is to the bottom line and investors, not necessarily to the general good of public schools and kids. . . . When business people decide to get into the education world in a big way, their support for specific reform measures has to be seen through the prism of money-making opportunities, not what research says works best for kids.'
For others, concerns are not so much centered on the potential for corporate malfeasance as education methodology. While it's clear that innovation has an important role to play in the future of schools, some are skeptical that tech-based endeavors can produce academic success. To many educators, increasing the amount of screen-based learning will lead to massive budgetary expenditures that yield little results. They see the infusion of tech resources in schools as nothing more than reform-happy administrators increasing the profits of media producers like Rupert Murdoch.
Proponents of reform and greater technological integration in the classroom assert that many educators adopt a stance of skepticism out of defensiveness. They argue that the intent of educational technology is not to replace or undermine teachers, but to help kids learn in the most effective ways. And for these people, the Wireless Generation's sale to News Corp. represents great potential. With the investment of a huge corporation behind it, they say, Wireless Generation will be able to grow at a vigorous pace and help to further transform the educational landscape.