Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

November 30, 2010

Joe Klein/Rupert Murdoch/Corporate Domination of Education Policy

Filed under: Education Policy,New York — millerlf @ 8:16 am

Murdoch buys education technology company

By Valerie Strauss Washington Post

[Disclosure: Kaplan Inc. is a for-profit education subsidiary of The Washington Post Co., which publishes The Washington Post, my employer.]

This didn’t take long: Joel Klein announces Nov. 9 that at year’s end he will resign as York City’s Schools chancellor to become executive vice president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Yesterday, the company announced that it was buying a technology company with big financial ties to the New York City school system.

Murdoch’s company, according to a story at businesswire.com, is acquiring 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a privately held Brooklyn-based education technology company, for approximately $360 million in cash. It will become a subsidiary of News Corp.

One of the things Wireless Generation does is build large-scale data systems that centralize student data and 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,” the story said.

(The ARIS contracts — worth tens of millions of dollars — and the contracts the New York City Education Department has issued for its School of One program were apparently negotiated rather than competitively bid.)

After Klein’s announcement, News Corp. officials told the New York Times that Klein would advise Murdoch on a number of initiatives, including “developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace.”

Murdoch, chairman and chief operating officer of News Corp., has taken a keen interest in education reform lately, investing in Teach for America and some charter schools.

I wonder why.

“When it comes to K through 12 education,” Murdoch said in a statement about the Wireless Generation purchase, “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.”

No doubt “great teaching” is what motivates Murdoch (whose News Corp. had, as of Sept. 30, 2010, total assets of approximately $56 billion and total annual revenues of approximately $33 billion).

The current wave of education reform based on “data” and “accountability” hasn’t done much to improve public schools, but it sure is helping improve the balance sheets of a lot of for-profit companies.

It is true that some nonprofits don’t operate a whole lot differently than some for-profits. And certainly for-profit businesses can and do bring valuable products and services to public schools. They make money by meeting demand, so, presumably, they fill some perceived need in the system.

But ultimately, the loyalty of for-profit companies is to the bottom line and investors, not necessarily to the general good of public schools and kids. And they get their return on investment with public money.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.

Allowing business people to drive education policy is a very dangerous business. Why the Obama administration thinks this is a good idea is way beyond me.

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