The Market

The Facebook IPO

This is one of those news items that you’re welcome to say “Wait, Audrey. This isn’t education technology.” And you’re right. It’s not. But it still matters: Facebook went public today. So what, you ask? Well, certainly this story matters to Silicon Valley and to the new millionaires and billionaires (and investors and entrepreneurs) this will create. And there are any number of reasons why this story matters specifically to education too. It matters because learning is social, and it matters because teens (and you and your mom) use Facebook. It matters because many school districts are saying that teachers cannot use Facebook to reach teens (or, at least students). It matters that Mark Zuckerberg is part of a larger narrative about dropping out of college as a key to entrepreneurial success. It matters too that that college was Harvard. It matters that Harvard claimed no IP rights to what one of its student had built. It matters that fellow Harvard student and Facebook co-founder Edward Saverin has renounced his U.S. citizenship, ostensibly to avoid paying taxes. It matters that, when he made his first philanthropic gesture, Zuckerberg donated to the Newark City Schools. The Facebook IPO matters because this company has defined “social networking” and in many ways shapes how we think about our interactions with one another (and with anything you can “like”) online. The Facebook IPO matters because of what it might reveal about the company’s current business strategy now (ads) or in the future (your data).

Test Scores

In the latest standardized test question whackiness, New Jersey 3rd graders were asked as part of their recent tests to write an essay about a secret they had kept. No pressure, kids.

The test scores of Florida public school students took a sharp nosedive this year after the state adjusted its scoring mechanism. But the FCAT scores dipped so low – just 27% of students passed, down from 81% the year before under the older scoring system – that the state Board of Education has opted to adjust again how what it considers a passing score. And now – presto! – 81% of Florida students are passing.


An important (350-page!) ruling in a lawsuit by the Cambridge University Press, the Oxford University Press and Sage Publications which charged that Georgia State University had violated copyright by offering library e-reserves. The decision was mostly a win for libraries. Duke University’s Kevin Smith writes, "“In general I expect librarians to be happy about the outcome of this case. It suggests that suing libraries is an unprofitable adventure, when 95% of the challenged uses were upheld. But there will also be a good deal of hand-wringing about the uncertainties that the Judge has left us with, the places where we need information we cannot reasonably obtain, and the mechanical application of a strict percentage.”

Updates and Upgrades

On Tuesday, Google released a new feature inside Google Docs calls “Google Research,” letting you tap into Google Search from within your documents. Frankly, it seemed a tad underwhelming. But then on Wednesday, Google unveiled its new Knowledge Graph, a major enhancement to its search capabilities, and you can start to see how the new reach and integration of Google services might work. With the new Knowledge Graph feature (rolling out over to users over the next week or so), you’ll see more search results in addition to just those “10 blue links” for which Google has become famous. These can help hone results (when you search for “Conan” for example, are you looking for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie or for a red-headed late-night comedian?), summarize information and provide related links and factoids. (I’ll have a more in-depth review once the feature is turned on for me.)

The Australian government has committed to spend $11.7 million to purchase 50,000 XO laptops as pa rt of a 12-month pilot program to support indigenous learning. In other OLPC news, plans to deploy some XO devices through helicopter drops moves forward.


The 2012 Horizon Report for K–12 won’t have its official release until June. But the NMC is offering a sneak peek this week into what the trends it’s tracking. On the horizon in the shortest of short term: cloud computing, apps, tablets, and collaborative environments.

According to a report released this week by the Everyone Graduates Center and the Get School Initiative, chronic absenteeism is a significant problem. Up to 15% of students miss school regularly – one day out of every 10. Chronic absenteeism ranges in the states that were studied, from 6% in Nebraska to 20% in Oregon, and as high as one quarter of students in high poverty rural areas and one third of students in high poverty urban areas.

Financial Improprieties, Dissolution, Bankruptcy, and Debt

Earlier this month, news broke that the Justice Department was investigating Princeton Review for charging the city of New York for tutoring services it never provided. Now the city’s comptroller has found that another tutoring company, the Champion Learning Center, did a similar thing, collecting some $860,000 for tutoring sessions that officials never certified had taken place.

I missed this news when it crossed the wire several weeks ago, but it’s too important to ignore: the city of Philadelphia is dissolving or “restructuring” its public schools system (pick your verb. Diane Ravitch suggests “privatizing”), closing some 64 schools. In their place: charter networks.

According to a press release this week, McGraw-Hill took “further steps” to spin out its education division into a separate company (for those keeping score at home, McGraw-Hill is the parent company of a bunch of textbooks as well as of the financial bellwether company Standard & Poor’s.)

Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed for Chapter 11 or as the press release calls it “comprehensive financial restructuring.”

The New York Times addressed the question of student loan debt this week in a number of stories describing a “generation hobbled by the soaring cost of college.” The story profiles a student with $120,000 in debt, but it’s worth pointing out that the average debt in 2011 was $23,000.

For Sale

The e-book lending website Lendle is up for sale, reports Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader. It’s not terribly surprising since Amazon, B&N, and (I hope!) your local library have all stepped in to the e-book lending business.

Bookstore Deals

In still more e-book news, the University of Minnesota Bookstores (which serve some 70,000 students across 5 campuses) announced a deal with McGraw-Hill to offer bulk textbook sales to its students. Books will be offered at a discount to students who agree to have these fees bundled with their tuition (in other words, they must buy the books assigned for their classes). More details via Publishers Weekly. (I can’t quite reconcile this news with the recent announcement of University of Minnesota’s database of open source textbooks.)

Inkling announced that it has partnered with Follett, which will highlight the interactive textbook publisher’s app in its store and on its website. See my Inside Higher Ed story.


MIT has named its new president: L. Rafael Reif, an electrical engineer who’s served as the university’s provost for 7 years. There, he’s been the driving force behind MITx, suggests Tony Bates.

David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core, will become the head of the College Board this fall. He wants the SAT to reflect the Common Core, writes Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz. Dana Goldstein examines the Coleman’s arguments about what students should be reading and writing. As the Common Core reflects, it’s less reading fiction and less writing personal experience narratives.


Q&A site Quora has just raised $50 million at a $400 million valuation. The news raised some eyebrows, particularly due to Quora’s low user engagement numbers. Those numbers might be true, but the quality of the answers on the site remains high. And as GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram argues, the founders (early Facebookers Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever who really don’t need to make any more money. Ever) definitely believe they’re on to something – a “for-profit Wikipedia” perhaps.

The online learning startup Udemy released some figures this week about the spike it’s seen in usage over the past year: 700% user growth in the past 12 months. It says that the top 10 earning teachers on its platform have brought in a combined $1,654,480 over the past year. According to these figures, the most popular classes on the platform felt into the (you guessed it) learn-to-code and learn-to-startup categories.

Degreed and Un-degreed

Lots of back and forth this week about whether or not “everyone needs to learn to code.” They don’t, argues Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood. Everyone chimes in.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews PurdueHUB-U, Purdue’s venture into online education: “modular online courses with video lectures, interactive visualizations, and tools for students to interact with their peers and the professor.” Purdue’s nanoHUB course charged students $30 for the class and certification (which in turn could be turned into continuing ed credits for a $195 – woohoo for the academic upsell!).

Peter Thiel is the guy who rages against the “higher education bubble” and offers under–20-year-olds $100K to drop out of college. But if you want to work for him, take note, you’ll need a college degree: “High GPA from top-tier university; preferably in computer science, mathematics, statistics, econometrics, physics, engineering or other highly quantitative," reads his venture firm's help wanted ad. The famed higher-ed skeptic Thiel is also teaching a class at Stanford -- ya know, that prestigious higher ed institution -- this semester. Here are the class notes. And here’s me, alternating between smirking and scowling at the whole thing.


Congratulations to the winner of the 2012 Doodle for Google contest: 2nd grader Dylan Hoffman of Caledonia, Wisconsin. Dylan wins a $30K scholarship, a $50K technology grant for his school, and gets his doodle featured on the Google homepage.

Recommended Reading

From here on out, you’ll find “Recommended Reading” (that is, blog posts written by others but curated and commented upon by me) at

Photo credits: Iman Mosaad

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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