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.

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.