This article includes news items that didn’t quite make the cut for part 3 of my annual review of the year in ed-tech

The Next Big Thing

Via The Atlantic: “Why Online Gradebooks Are Changing Education.”

Via Edsurge: “When Teachers Build Edtech, Awesomeness Ensues – and Here’s Why.” Among the not-awesomeness of ed-tech built by teachers, please let’s not forget: Blackboard, TurnItIn.

Education Week has an update on what happened to the millions that LeVar Burton raised via Kickstarter to reboot Reading Rainbow as an app.

Via Fast Company: “How Became A Pop Culture Phenomenon.” Spoiler alert: by pivoting away from ed-tech.

Could Slack Be the Next Online Learning Platform?

You know what ed-tech really needs? Another “social learning platform.” Never fear, “HP Partners with EdCast to Launch Massive Social Learning Platform, HP LIFE 2.0.”

Procurement (Is a Product Opportunity)

Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Understanding Ed-Tech Product Pricing, for Educators and Entrepreneurs.”

Via Edsurge: “U.S. Dept. of Ed. Unveils Free Online Tool for Rapid Evaluation of Edtech Products.”

Daniel Willingham on “Ed tech purchasing decisions.”

How Should Schools Purchase Ed-Tech?” asks Harold Levy in an op-ed in Education Week touting his new non-profit startup, the Technology for Education Consortium, which will purportedly help schools with procurement issues.

The non-profit Technology for Education Consortium is partnering with an ed-tech company Lea(R)n “to use the latter company’s technology platform to collect and analyze data around ed-tech purchasing, including the RFPs and contract terms that go with the purchases,” according to EdWeek’s Market Brief.

Venture Philanthropy

The Gates Foundation has released its list of higher ed priorities, doubling down on many of its terrible ideas, including measuring and counting the things it thinks matters to “innovation” in education.

The Gates Foundation has surveyed educators on their use of data and on their attitudes towards ed-tech.

“Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Pledges $3 Billion for Science Research,” reports. “Of that $3 billion, CZI will spend $600 million to create a ‘biohub’ in San Francisco, where scientists and engineers from Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at San Francisco will collaborate on disease-eradication research.” (Related, via Devex: “An early look at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s investments in education.”)

Via Buzzfeed: “Stanford, The White House, And Tech Bigwigs Will Host A Summit On Poverty.”

President Obama might become a venture capitalist after leaving office. (That’s what former Department of Education folks, Arne Duncan and Jim Shelton, have done. And of course current Undersecretary of Education, Ted Mitchell, is a former VC.) Bonus points if former British PM David Cameron becomes one too.

More on the “rethink high school” contest, funded by the XQ Institute, which is in turn is funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, via Edsurge.

The Business of Textbooks

“Digital learning systems now charge students for access codes needed to complete coursework, take quizzes, and turn in homework,” Buzzfeed – which consistently does some of the best education journalism – reports.

McGraw-Hill issued a press release, touting that “in 2015 unit sales of digital platforms and programs exceeded those of print in its U.S. Higher Education Group for the first time.”

Amazon has won a $30 million contract to sell digital textbooks to the New York City schools.

USC professor Morgan Polikoff writes about his research on textbook adoption: “Textbooks are important, but states and districts aren’t systematically tracking them.”

Elsewhere in B&N news: “B&N Ed Retires Its Digital Textbook Platform, Replaces It With VitalSource.” And a nice reminder, as the NOOK pulls out of the UK, meaning customers might lose access to the digital materials they’ve purchased: “You Don’t Own Your Ebooks.”

Oh, the irony: “The American Federation of Teachers is pressuring Pearson PLC, the global education company, to conduct a business strategy review with an eye to becoming more profitable.” Several AFT affiliates’ retirement funds own Pearson shares. And the testing/textbook machine grinds on…

Startup Pivots

I’d wondered if Apple’s latest iOS upgrades that include several “classroom management” features would hurt Nearpod, a startup that has offered something similar. But hey, it looks like the company now says it’s going to offer virtual reality lessons. Pivot. Or something.

The Business of Testing

“Northwest Evaluation Association To Enter State Assessment Market,” says Education Week.

Via Education Week: “College Board Aims at Test-Prep Tutors in Barring March 5 SAT-Takers.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Why the OECD Wants a Global Effort to Measure Student Learning.” And Education Week writes up another complaint from the OECD: “U.S. Efforts Haven’t Helped Low Performers on Global Math, Reading Tests.” More testing is sure to solve it.

Via The Texas Tribune: “A high-performing West Austin school district says it was told the state’s new testing vendor misplaced some or all of the STAAR exams its 3rd through 8th graders took this spring. But New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service says that’s not true.” ETS says it hasn’t lost the tests. It just doesn’t have them yet.

“Competing Pressures Squeeze, Shake K–12 Assessment Landscape,” Education Week reports: high-stakes tests versus small-scale assessments.

From the Department of Education’s Press Office: “Fact Sheet: Education Department Releases Proposed Regulations to Encourage Better and Fairer Tests, Reduce Burden of Testing.”

Online standardized testing glitches strike again – this time in Texas.

Via the Chicago Sun Times: “PARCC testing begins again but still no opt-out policy.”

According to the AP, “The state’s top education official says a computer glitch erased answers on about 14,220 standardized tests taken by Texas high school students.”

Elsewhere in Pearson’s testing contracts: “Taxpayers looked set to be left with a large bill on Monday, after a contract for the management of Britain’s driving theory tests was yanked from the company which won it, and back into the hands of the prior concessionaire. Sky News reported Learndirect – which was due to begin supplying the theory tests later this year – agreed to a multimillion pound settlement with the Government this month. Rather than going ahead, the firm’s contract was cancelled by ministers and handed back to FTSE 100 publishing group Pearson for up to four years without re-tendering. Pearson had been administering the tests prior to the new contract.”

“Why testing prevails in K–12 education,” according to Education Dive.

Via The Texas Tribune: “The Texas Education Agency is penalizing the New Jersey-based company that develops and administers the state’s controversial STAAR tests – to the tune of $20.7 million – over widespread logistical and technical issues reported with the spring administration, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Tuesday.”

Via Education Week: “Reach of PARCC, Smarter Balanced, Drops Sharply in 2015–16.”

“We Need to Assess Assessments,” says Freddie deBoer and it’s turtles all the way down.

Via Education Week’s Market Brief: “Test Vendors Weigh In On Future of PARCC.”

Via Education Week: “The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a major designer of common-core tests for states, is looking for a new fiscal agent after the University of California, Los Angeles, said it will no longer do that work.”

Lots of PR following the release last weekend of SAT’s new version. “One million students now using free SAT prep materials,” says USA Today, citing Khan Academy’s new test prep resources. The College Board issued a press release full of figures it gleaned from a survey of some 8000 students who took the test. We know nothing about how those students were selected or any of their demographic details, but hey. Cite away! The Princeton Review issued its own press release, insisting that many students opted to sit out the exam. Kaplan Test Prep also surveyed SAT-test-taking students because why not.

“ACT and Kaplan Start Online Content Instruction,” Inside Higher Ed reports. The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a few more details on the offering. And via Education Week: “The College Board has lashed out at its rival, ACT Inc., saying its plan to add live teaching to its online test-prep service is more about money than public service, and accusing ACT of trying to ‘replace’ classroom teachers with long-distance instruction.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Kaplan Will Offer Free Online PSAT Prep.”

Via Politico: “The Army wants you… to use its test prep program. That’s right, the Army has a standardized test preparation program that includes seven free ACT and SAT practice exams. It’s rolling out a social media push today using the hashtag #DontSettle4Cs to promote the program, called March2Success. It includes self-paced tutoring focused heavily on English and math that can be monitored by a teacher or parent, and has been used by 1.7 million people since 2003.”

ETS says it will discourage graduate departments from relying too much on GRE scores.

Calculating the Business of Ed-Tech

“Back-to-School Spending Set to Rise 11% as Confidence Grows,” says Bloomberg.

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What the Slowdown in Ed-Tech Investment Means for Colleges.”

Campus Technology writes up the International Data Corporation’s market latest data on tablet sales: “Worldwide Tablet Shipments Fall More Than 12 Percent in Second Quarter.”

According to investment analyst firm CB Insights, “Ed Tech Startup Exits Fall From Peak 2014 Levels.” Meanwhile, the investment bankers Berkery Noyes have released their latest M&A report, calling the education sector “very active.”

Edsurge is “Following Edtech Money,” with a report on K–12 venture capital investment in US startups.

Party over, oops, out of time. Via investment analyst firm CB Insights: “Ed Tech Chill: Ed Tech Startups See Funding Slump And Deals Flatline.” “Is Winter Coming? The Q1 2016 Edtech Funding ‘Dip’ in 5 Charts,” asks Edsurge (which uses a Bitcoin image to illustrate this article, which is only slightly more odd than putting “dip” in quotation marks in the headline.) More on funding research from Edsurge in the “Research” section below.

More on ed-tech funding via Education Week’s Market Brief: “Self-Paced E-Learning Market Evaporating, Report Finds.”

Via Edsurge: “Trouble With the Curve: Estimating the Size and Growth Rates of K–12 Markets.”

Edsurge has released its first AT&T-funded report on the trends driving the ed-tech market.

CB Insights has released its report on 2015’s ed-tech funding: “more than $2.98B across 442 deals.”

The NYT’s Natasha Singer takes a closer look at ed-tech funding, noting that “Despite the volume of novel products aimed at schools, the biggest investments are largely going to start-ups focused on higher education or job-related skills – businesses that feed a market of colleges, companies and consumers willing to spend to promote career advancement.”

Ambient Insights has published a white paper about 2015 ed-tech investments, which it says totaled $6.54 billion.

Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Value of Education Industry Sector Transactions Nosedives in 2016.” The article draws on the latest report from investment bank Berkery Noyes.

ASU + GSV Hellscape

Props to IHE’s Doug Lederman for this headline: “Scenes From Ed-Tech Heaven (or Hell).”

From Edsurge: “Heard & Overheard at the ASU+GSV Summit,” a story that reports with a straight face that GSV’s Michael Moe called for a “Hollywood Meets Harvard” model for improving education.

The Criminal Business of Ed-Tech

Via the Chiago Sun Times: “A suburban father and son accused in 2014 of scamming public school districts out of millions – only to post diamonds and rubies to get out of jail – pleaded guilty Tuesday to mail fraud. Jowhar Soultanali, 61, of Morton Grove, and his son, Kabir Kassam, 37, of Wheeling, each face a maximum of 20 years in prison after admitting to U.S. District Judge James Zagel they broke the law. An attorney also entered guilty pleas for the pair’s Niles-based tutoring businesses, Brilliance Academy Inc. and Babbage Net School Inc.”

The Learning Management System Refuses to Die

“No, Blackboard Report Did Not Conclude That Online Classes Are ’A Poorer Experience,” says Phil Hill.

And from his business partner Michael Feldstein: “Instructurecon 2016: Why This Company is Still Formidable (and Misunderstood).” Poor poor misunderstood LMSes.

Also via Phil Hill: “Exclusive: Worldwide LMS market size expected to triple in 5 years … or get cut in half.”

From Phil Hill: “State of Higher Ed LMS Market for US and Canada: Spring 2016 Edition.” (This now-famous ed-tech infographic always reminds me of Charles Joseph Minard’s famous graph of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Apt, no?

Via T.H.E. Journal: “The biggest predictor of student achievement (based on their use of a learning management system) is not the amount of time they spend working with course content; nor is it how long they spend taking assessments or participating in discussion forums. It’s how frequently they check their grades online.” The claims are based on Blackboard data, published on the LMS company’s blog.

So much to love in this press release lede: “Blackboard Inc., the world’s leading education technology company, today announced a new partnership with Uber Technologies Inc. that creates a convenient travel alternative for students at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide.”

The Business of Google (in Education)

“Google Quietly Shutters Play For Education,” Techcrunch reports. But don’t worry. I’m sure the rest of your free Google products are safe forever.

“Google is becoming U.S. K–12 schools’ operating system,” the San Jose Mercury News contends. “Google, a ‘school official?’ This regulatory quirk can leave parents in the dark,” The Washington Post frets.

Private Schools Run by Private Companies

Spark Schools has raised $9 million from the Omidyar Network. The company runs “blended learning” schools in South Africa. The Omidyar Network is also invested in another for-profit company running schools across Africa: Bridge International Academies.

This week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines: “Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?” The story, in The Atlantic, looks at the Richmond Alternative School in Virginia which will now be run by Camelot Education.

Via The Guardian: “Tomb Raider creator to open two free schools with digital focus.” (“Free school” here refers to an English school that is something like a charter school in the US – one not controlled by local authorities.)

Ed-Tech Accelerator Programs

The education technology startup accelerator program Imagine K12 has merged with Y Combinator.

Edsurge follows up on reports that Intel Capital, Intel’s venture capital unit, is up for sale.

Oh look. Another startup accelerator program, this one a partnership between NYU’s Steinhardt School and StartEd.

“ASU, GSV and Tim Draper Join Forces for Higher-Ed Accelerator,” Edsurge reports. Recommended horror story: this 2013 profile of Tim Draper’s “Draper University of Heroes.”

Acquisition Woes

Via the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Unintended Consequences.” The story of how Inigral (later Uversity) was “steered into trouble” by taking strategic investment from the Gates Foundation. (It also received funding from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. Edsurge reposted the article, but didn’t add a disclosure about its own financial relationship to the Gates Foundation or that it was co-founded by a VP of Inigral.)

Glam Media has closed. It’s transferred ownership of Ning – remember Ning? – to the New York-based company Cyndx.

Edsurge chronicles “Teachscape’s Tangled Tale” and its decision to sell its customer list and assets to Frontline Technologies.

Via Edsurge: “Life After Merger: When Edtech Acquisitions Go Sour.” The story of UClass and Renaissance Learning. Lawsuits! Drama! Lessons!


Via Anya Kamenetz in Wired: “Pearson’s Quest to Cover the Planet in Company-Run Schools.” Horrific.

“The stock price for Pearson PLC, the world’s largest education business, dropped precipitously Friday after its announcement of a 7 percent decline in underlying sales to about $2.5 billion for the first half of 2016,” reports EdWeek’s Market Brief. Pearson also picked a new president for North America: Kevin Capitani, formerly an exec at SAP.

Pearson will handle the marketing, recruiting, and student services for Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. “It’s a unique and first-of-its-kind type of partnership for Pearson,” says Inside Higher Ed. Whee.

Via Fortune (Reuters, really): “Why This Education Publisher Is Betting on Online Degrees.”

(Elsewhere in Pearson news, the company was hit with an Ofsted report that ranked it “inadequate” and found “no key strengths” in its apprenticeship program.)


Via Education Week: “Ed-Tech Pilots: New Resource Tries to Help K–12 Districts Get Them Right.” The resource in question is a framework from Digital Promise.

Failed Tech

“A computer for every LA Unified student would cost $311 million,” says the LA School Report (which seems significantly less than the $1.3 billion it agreed to pay Apple/Pearson for iPads, but what do I know).

“Costs for building LA Unified’s data system may top $200 million,” KPCC reports. Microsoft is building it so insert bloat joke here.

Via the News Tribune: “A $100 million computer software system for Washington’s 34 community colleges is so far behind schedule and operating so poorly that it will likely cost another $10 million before it’s installed in all schools.”

The Business of ISTE

ISTE will start charging money to license its technology standards, which it first released as the NETS back in 1998.


“Schools, Libraries Miss Out on Millions in E-Rate Funds,” according to EdTech Magazine – some $245 million for the 2014 fiscal year.

Via Ars Technica: “AT&T overcharged two Florida school districts for phone service and should have to pay about $170,000 to the US government to settle the allegations, the Federal Communications Commission said yesterday. AT&T disputes the charges and will contest the decision.”

There’s more time for schools and libraries to apply for the E-Rate program, Politico reports, as the organization that runs it, the Universal Service Administrative Company, has revamped the application portal; and anytime you hear the phrase “revamped the application portal,” you know it’s a technical mess.

Via Education Week: “The latest attempt by researchers to determine the impact of educational technology investments on student achievement suggests that federal E-rate program subsidies that schools receive are unlikely to improve student test scores.”


The Atlantic on online program management: “How Companies Profit Off Education at Nonprofit Schools.” Via Phil Hill: “Online Program Management: A view of the market landscape.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Outsourced College.”

The Business of Charter Schools

Via Education Week: “The founder and former CEO of an online public school that educates thousands of Pennsylvania students pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal tax fraud, acknowledging he siphoned more than $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School through for-profit and nonprofit companies he controlled.” The CEO in question: Nicholas Trombetta.

Via the San Jose Mercury News: “A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling for a state audit of a profitable but low-performing network of online charter schools following this newspaper’s investigation of K12 Inc., the Virginia company at the heart of the operation.”

Via The Hechinger Report: “Virtual charter schools need ‘bold action’ for change, says national charter school advocacy group.” The organization is worried that virtual schools – pretty much utter failures – are giving charters a bad rap.

Via the Columbus Dispatch: “A Franklin County judge rejected arguments from the Department of Education that the state’s largest online charter school prematurely sued the state over an ongoing attendance audit.” That state: Ohio.

Via Education Week: “The founder and former CEO of an online public school that educates thousands of Pennsylvania students pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal tax fraud, acknowledging he siphoned more than $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School through for-profit and nonprofit companies he controlled.” The CEO in question: Nicholas Trombetta.

Via Buzzfeed: “ Online K–12 School Fights Attempt To Check If Students Really Show Up.” The school in question: the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

From the NEPC: the Virtual Schools Report 2016 (PDF).

The New York Times on The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school: “Online School Enriches Affiliated Companies if Not Its Students.”

Education Week has published a series of articles on virtual schools: “Cyber Charters vs. ‘Multi-District Online Schools’.” “Outsized Influence: Online Charters Bring Lobbying ‘A’ Game to States.”

Related: “Success Academy Charter Schools Plans to Share Curriculum Online.”

Via the San Jose Mercury News: “California Virtual Academies: Is online charter school network cashing in on failure?” Pretty much, yes. (California Virtual Academies is run by K12 Inc.)

Investors’ Thoughts

The technology of higher education

Investment firm GSV has released a report with “comprehensive data + education sector insights.” They’ve called it “a history of the future” – nice tagline. Someone should steal that.

“Are ed tech financiers beginning to listen to teachers?” asks the Hechinger Report’s Nichole Dobo in her coverage of the event. Betteridge’s Law of Headlines tells us that the answer to this question is “No.” (Incidentally, the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition also offer great insight on venture capitalists in ed-tech.)

Public Private Partnership Hype

“Blended Capital: What Happens When Companies Tap Both VCs and Foundations For Funding?” asks an Edsurge op-ed. Well, for starters, the disclosures at the bottom of an Edsurge article get really long.

Via Edsurge: “Why Partnerships – Not VC Funding Alone – Will Ensure Continued EdTech Innovation.”

Sesame Street

Via NPR: “Sesame Workshop CEO Outlines Vision To Ensure Show’s Survival.”

Audrey Watters


Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016

A Hack Education Project

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