Funding and Acquiring
Pearson, the world's largest education company announced this week that it had acquired Connections Education an online virtual school provider. About 40,000 students in 21 states attend the schools, which are funded by the states and districts and free to parents in places where virtual school counts as a public education. Curriculum. PD. Textbooks. Testing. Schools. Pearson. Here's how Tom Vander Ark sees the dollars stacking up. No word how Florida Virtual Schools, which is also "distributed" by Pearson, feels about all this.
On Monday, McGraw-Hill announced that it would be splitting into two companies. One would focus on its education division, now second only in size to Pearson, and the other would handle the company's financial business, including its ownership of Standard & Poors. On Thursday, the company announced it had led the investment in a first round of funding for Unigo, an online resource for college students. The New York-based startup will now power the student review section of the U.S. News & World Report's college rankings.
The textbook rental giant Chegg continues its acquisition spree by buying Zinch, a website that connects high school students to colleges (and college recruiters). Chegg, which has raised over $220 million in investment, has acquired a number of startups lately to build out what it calls its "education graph" as it seeks to become the platform for college students to get their books, course schedules, college recommendations, tutoring, and more. The Zinch acquisition marks its foray into the high school market.
Online learning startup TenMarks has raised $3 million in funding. TenMarks offers personalized, web-based math practice. I've written about the company on MindShift
Mozilla officially announced its Open Badges Project at an event in Washington DC. We've covered the project and its aims to rethink how we recognize digital skills. Mozilla, along with HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation, announced today that this year's Digital Media and Learning Competition would address badges for lifelong learning. At stake are some $2 million in grants.
Actor, author, and literacy advocate Levar Burton announced this week that the much beloved Reading Rainbow television show would be transformed into a new company RRKidz. Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009, but Burton's new venture, in partnership with Buffalo's WNED-TV -- the rights owner of the long-running PBS show -- will bring the concept of teaching a love of reading to iOS and Android with an e-book app.
The first cohort of startups to graduate from the new education startup incubator Imagine K12 had its Demo Day for investors last week and its first public appearance on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt on Wedesday. The full list of the 10 ed-tech startups is available here.
Politics and Policies
The U.S. Department of Education released new figures on the student loan default rate. No surprise in an economic downturn, the default rates have risen, up to 8.8% in 2009 from 7% in 2008. Rates differed between public, private, and for-profit universities (7.2%, 4.6% and 15% respectively) but in all cases, the default rates were up.
The Missouri Senate unanimously passed revisions to the so-called "Facebook law," preventing teachers and students from communicating via social media. The new bill, which removes the restrictions and asks local districts to make their own social media policies, will now move on the Missouri House.
The White House announced a new center to "advance technologies that can transform teaching and learning." The Digital Promise center is funded by the Department of Education, the Carnegie Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. Its mission will include "identifying breakthrough technologies" as well as "learning faster what's working and what's not." Vague missions are vague.
The FTC has released its proposed updates to COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The act, passed in 1998 (the same year, for trivia buffs among you, that Mark Zuckerberg turned 13) prevents companies from gathering the personal information of people under the age of 13 without a parent's permission. Updated language in the FCC's proposal would also restrict mobile and GPS data, as well as prevent children under the age of 13 uploading photos of themselves without parental consent. Public comments are open through November 28.
The Authors Guild, already in a legal battle over the broader Google Library Project, announced its lawsuit against the HathiTrust, a non-profit organization formed by some of the universities which had had their collections scanned by Google. The HathiTrust was created to help address the question of "orphan works," those items for which the rights owner couldn't be found. As the books had been digitized, the HathiTrust members said they wanted to make these digital copies available. The Authors Guild is suing (although clearly these aren't their books), and Ars Technica has the run-down.
The University of North Carolina is blocking students' access to filesharing via the dorm's network, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. If you want permission for a P2P site, you need to ask for a "hall pass." I am serious. The university, for its part, says it spends $40,000 a year to deal with copyright infringement, hence the curtaining of students' open access to the Internet.
Research & Data
The College Board released statistics about the latest round of SAT test-takers, and bad news: scores are down. The average math score hit its lowest point since 1995. and critical reading scores hit an all time low. Or maybe not bad news, as the College Board tried to downplay the news, as scores may be declining in part because of the changing and expanding demographic of those taking the test. Some have pushed back on the news, including Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing who argues that the continually declining test scores show a broader failure in the emphasis on high-stakes testing throughout students' school careers, not just come SAT time.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its annual Education at a Glance report this week, with over 500 pages of educational data from around the world: how many students finish secondary school, how much money is spent per student, how does educational attainment impact participation in the labor market, how much time do teachers spend teaching, and much much more. For education data geeks, this is an important resource, and the report is free to download.
Freakonomics point to a research paper by Mark Kantrowitz that demonstrates the white students are more likely than minority students to win financial aid rewards: "Caucasian students receive more than three-quarters (76%) of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding, even though they represent less than two-thirds (62%) of the student population. Caucasian students are 40% more likely to win private scholarships than minority students."
Google's Inside Search blog breaks down the back-to-school search queries, finding that they're up by 10% this year over last. And while, sure, students and parents are looking for deals on back-to-school supplies, clothing, and haircuts, Google noted that searches for tablets beat searches for backpacks for the first time in a July to September period this year. The cynic in me wants to tell Google that those were people curious about the rumored Amazon tablet, but I don't dare.
Google found itself a good back-to-school datapoint to boast about: 61 of the schools on the newly-released U.S. News & World Report higher education rankings use Google Apps for Education.
Updates and Upgrades
Google unveiled a number of improvements for accessibility to its suite of productivity and social tools. Google Hangouts now have a "Take the floor" feature. Currently Hangouts focus on the person who's speaking, but the new feature will allow those using sign language to be able to "control the camera," if you will, and show up as the featured speaker in the larger screen. Google also said it made Google Docs, Calendar, and Sites more accessible to the blind through more keyboard shortcuts and support for screen readers.
Libraries & Archives
The Atlanta University Center's Woodruff Library announced it will catalog and digitize the collected papers of Tupac Shakur.
The University of North Carolina's Information and Library Science program is offering its incoming class of students a great deal: a free, digital storage locker for life.
Publications & Publishers
Indiana University's pilot project whereby students purchase e-textbooks at a greatly discounted rate (as the university itself is the buyer, not the students) can now boast participation from some of the major textbook publishers, including McGraw-Hill, Wiley & Sons, Bedford, W.W. Norton, and Flat World Knowledge. The university announced this week that it has negotiated new contracts with the publishers, not only reducing the costs for students, but extending the period by which students will have access to the digital textbooks.
Goodreads launched a recommendation engine this week, claiming that with some 20 billion data points, it will be able to help me to find a book to read next after I've finished this last damn George R. R. Martin novel.