education marketplace

Murdoch buys education tech company Wireless Generation

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation took its second step into the education world this evening when it made a deal to buy Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education technology company.

Murdoch took his first step nearly two weeks ago, when he acquired the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, Joel Klein. In an announcement that took most of his staff and top advisors by surprise, Klein told reporters that he was leaving the Department of Education for a job at News Corp., where he will be an executive vice president overseeing investments in digital learning companies.

After Klein resigned, News Corp. officials told The New York Times that they planned to make “seed investments” in entrepreneurial education companies. The acquisition of Wireless Generation may be the first of these investments.

“Wireless Generation is positioned to grow aggressively, and it was the right time in the company’s journey to find a home where it will have access to the resources it needs to fuel that aggressive growth,” said spokeswoman Andrea Reibel in a statement.

Reibel would not comment on when talks began, but said the deal was finalized this evening. For $360 million in cash, News Corp. now owns 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a company with 400 employees.

“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,” said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch in a statement.

“Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students,” he said.

Wireless Generation has made its business partly by cobbling together government contracts with school systems. In New York City, it took over development and management of ARIS, the city’s online warehouse of student data, which began under IBM. It also helped write the algorithm for School of One, a program run by the DOE that teaches students math by having them run through a playlist of exercises on their laptops and face-to-face with teachers.

The company is likely to make a bid to build the technological pieces of the national tests that will be tied to the “common core” standards.

Wireless Generation CEO Larry Berger has made a name for himself in the education world in part because of a PowerPoint presentation he delivers explaining the barriers to innovation in the education sector, especially the challenges of breaking the monopolies held by the education publishing companies.

In recent weeks, Klein has mentioned his interest in other online learning ventures such as Israeli-based Time to Know, which sells an online curriculum to about 20 city schools, and School of One.

News Corp.’s full press release follows:

News Corporation today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a privately-held Brooklyn-based education technology company for approximately $360 million in cash.

Upon completion of the transaction, Wireless Generation will become a subsidiary of News Corporation and will be managed by founder and CEO Larry Berger, President and COO Josh Reibel, and Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer Laurence Holt, who will collectively retain a 10 percent interest.

Established in 2000, Wireless Generation provides mobile and web software, data systems and professional services that enable teachers to use data to assess student progress and deliver individualized instruction. Serving more than 200,000 teachers and three million students across all 50 states, the Company is dedicated to creating innovative tools to help educators teach smarter. It currently has 400 employees.

“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,” said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch. “Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”

A recognized leader in the movement to personalize the educational experience through the use of data and technology, Wireless Generation also builds large-scale data systems that centralize student data, give educators and parents unprecedented visibility into learning and foster professional communities of educators with social networking tools. The Company is a key partner to New York City’s Department of Education on its Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) as well as on the City’s School of One initiative, named by TIME Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2009.

“We’re delighted to be joining a company that has a long history of growing entrepreneurial, innovative businesses,” said Larry Berger, CEO of Wireless Generation. “Rupert believes in the power of digital platforms to reach more people with better information, more swiftly than ever and he understands the transformative effect technology can bring to the process of learning.”

News Corporation (NASDAQ: NWS, NWSA; ASX: NWS, NWSLV) had total assets as of September 30, 2010 of approximately US$56 billion and total annual revenues of approximately US$33 billion. News Corporation is a diversified global media company with operations in six industry segments: cable network programming; filmed entertainment; television; direct broadcast satellite television; publishing; and other. The activities of News

Corporation are conducted principally in the United States, Continental Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Asia and Latin America.

About Wireless Generation

Wireless Generation creates innovative tools, systems and services that help educators teach smarter. With its solutions, educators can feasibly apply research-based, proven practices such as frequent progress monitoring and needs diagnosis, data-informed decision-making, differentiated instruction and professional collaborations across classrooms, grades, schools. The company has helped educators to address and solve some of the most pressing challenges in teaching and learning. Wireless Generation currently serves more than 200,000 educators and three million students.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”