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Profiting From the Process of Learning

Lots of education reform types seem to think schools can learn a lot from emulating business practices.

Like New York Mayor Bloomberg who likes hiring people with absolutely no experience to run the city school system. Or those who fall at the feet of Bill Gates to hear his pronouncements (and pick up some of his cash).

And many companies have interests beyond getting kids ready to work for them as evidenced this week when News Corp. bought an education technology company called Wireless Generation.

So why would a huge global media conglomerate want to buy a relatively small business that builds “large-scale data systems” to manage student information for school systems (including the biggest, New York City)?

According to CEO Rupert Murdoch, “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.”

Of course, “great teaching” is the far less important part of that statement. As Valerie Strauss notes in a recent entry at her Washington Post blog,

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.

She goes on to offer this very accurate assessment of why accepting education reform advice from CEOs is more than just ineffective.

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. (emphasis mine)

Meanwhile, as Mr. Murdoch is looking for his share of large profits in the education business, he’s also trying to figure out how to stop his old media properties from losing customers (and ad dollars) to the evil web.

News Corp’s latest idea seems to be the “world’s first ‘newspaper’ designed exclusively for new tablet-style computers” like the iPad.  It will be called The Daily, cost 99 cents a week, and will include only material from News Corp properties.

Daily as in once a day? “Newspaper” as in the same information found in dozens of other places, except with no links outside of one source?

More than a few observers with a much better understanding of how digital media works than Murdoch aren’t optimistic for this concept to be any more successful than his other web adventures (MySpace, anyone?).

So, what’s the connection between Murdoch’s search for profits in the education market and his ongoing campaign to erect a paywall around “his” information?

I have no idea, other than it all seems to be about making corporate-sized profits from the process of learning, which for some reason, seems fundamentally wrong.

Profit or not, however, in the end I doubt either of these business plans will be beneficial for those of us who are not Murdoch and his stockholders.

1 Comment

  1. Tom

    The common core was pitched at #vss2010 as the centralizing force that will enable business to really start making money in education. No more messy differences in standards to deal with. This was pitched as a good thing.

    It’s easy to see education as the perfect environment for these people- low expectations, large captive audiences, huge amounts of money, etc. etc.

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