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Law and Politics

British Columbia announced its support for open textbooks at the Open Education 2012 conference this week, becoming the first Canadian province to do so. BC will create openly licensed textbooks for the 40 most popular first- and second-year courses in its university system.

Washington voters have rejected ballot measures to allow charter schools in the state twice now, but supporters are back again this year with another attempt. They’ve raised almost $8.9 million for their campaign, with just 10 donors (including Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) responsible for 91% of that money.

Parents in Adelanto California have become the first to utilize California’s new “Parent Trigger” law to close down their local elementary school and turn it over to a charter school. The parents voted 50 to 3 to have LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy take over the Desert Trails Elementary School. Some 600 students and 286 parents signed a petititon last year to convert the school to a charter. Only those parents who signed the petititon were eligible to decide what happened to the school next, which strikes me as profoundly undemocratic and anti-public, but there ya go — I’m pretty sure that’s the point.

It’s back to court for the Los Angeles Unified School District and The LA Times. The latter is accusing the district of violating public records laws by refusing to hand over records of teachers’ performances based on student test scores. The newspaper published its own study and stories last year naming and ranking teachers based on “value-added” measurements.

A parents group in New York City has written a letter to the state’s attorney general asking the state to stop its participation in the Shared Learning Collaborative, a Gates Foundation-funded effort to build a technology infrastructure to facilitate schools’ handling of student data. The parents are concerned, they say, about student privacy and worry that information will be handed over to third parties, particularly for-profit vendors like News Corp-owned Wireless Generation which is helping develop the project.

Updates and Upgrades

Random House says that libraries own their e-books. That’s the headline of a LibraryJournal article, and it’s a pretty big deal considering that many of the other Big 6 Publishers have been acting as though libraries license rather than own e-books when they purchase them.

The University of Texas system announced this week that it’s joining edX, the non-profit MOOC initiative started by MIT and Harvard. It will begin offering classes on the platform next fall.

Unglue.it, a crowdfunding site to help “unglue” e-books and release them freely (DRM-free and openly licensed), has relaunched, having been forced to close down when Amazon cut off the startup’s access to its payment system. Unglue.it will now use the online payment system Stripe and has started campaigns to unglue 5 new books.

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has launched his new startup, ReadingBear.org, a free website that teaches reading through phonics.

I predicted that Amazon wouldn’t make any major moves in education this year, and if you ignore the millions that Bezos has invested into ed-tech startups and into pro-charter schools initiative, I almost got it right — until this week when the company announced Kindle Whispercast, a new tool that lets schools and libraries better manage their Kindles via the Web. An Amazon subsidiary also launched a couple of kid- and parent-oriented websites, reports Techcrunch: Bookworm.com and Afterschool.com.

Google released an update to its Ngram Viewer this week, its tool for letting you look at word and phrase-frequencies throughout literary history (or at least throughout the history of materials that Google has digitized as part of its book-scanning efforts). Google has added new materials to the Ngram dataset and also lets you specify the parts of speech you’re looking for.

Google unveiled a new Chromebook model this week that’s somewhat akin to the Macbook Air in so far as it’s lighter and thinner. The new device costs $249.

2tor, a company that helps colleges and universities offer online classes, has changed its name to 2U, a smart re-branding I think as 2tor doesn’t “tutor.”

Departures and Closures

Michael Chasen, the co-founder and CEO of Blackboard, will step down at the end of the year. Ray Henderson has a nice retrospective on Chasen’s tenure and the history of the company. I like this line: “Michael’s legacy is to leave us mildly paranoid but battle tested.”

The University of Phoenix will be closing 115 locations, its parent company the Apollo Group announced, following a fall by 60% in its fourth quarter net income. Some 13,000 students will be affected.

Lane Merrifield, the co-founder of the popular kids’ website Club Penguin, is leaving the company (which was sold to Disney in 2007 for $700 million), reports AllThingsD. Merrifield will join FreshGrade, an education startup focused on “capturing learning” according to its website.

Pearson filed a DMCA notice against a teacher’s 2007 blog post (which shared a copy of Beck’s Hopelessness Scale — a list of 20 questions published in 1974), reports Techdirt, resulting in Edublogs’ hosting company ServerBeach yanking the servers for all 1.4 million-plus blogs hosted there. IP is broken.

Funding and Acquisitions

Pearson acquired EmbanetCompass, a company that provides services related to online courses to colleges and universities, for a meager $650 million. More details in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Goalbook (one of my favorite education startups of 2011) announced that it has raised $915,000 in seed funding from NewSchools Venture Fund.

The digital transcript service Parchment (founded by Blackboard co-founder Matthew Pittinsky) has raised $23.5 million in its Series D round of funding.

Inigral, a startup that offers a Facebook app to help colleges manage student recruitment, has raised $3.25 million in investment from the Gates Foundation and Retro Ventures.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success’s Project on Student Debt, the average student loan debt for those who borrowed money for college is up by 5% from last year — to $26,500.

The Gates Foundation announced the grant recipients for the third and final wave of its Next Generation Learning Challenges. The 13 winners focus on blended learning models and will each receive $150,000 in grants.

Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez reports that the iPad “edu-tainment” company Kidaptive has raised a “large seed round” of funding from Menlo Ventures, Crunchfund and others.

A new Bay Area-based non-profit announced the creation of the Silicon Schools Fund, a $25 million fund to help create blended learning schools. On the board sit Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn and Khan Academy’s Salman Khan.

Classes and Competitions

Udacity announced several new classes this week that point to a possible business model and curriculum trajectory for the startup. The new classes are a collaboration with corporations — Google, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Autodesk, Cadence, and Wolfram to start — and teach skills and systems pertaining to those companies’ products.

YouTube held a contest in partnership with Sal Khan and Khan Academy to find the “next 10 gurus of education” (on YouTube). Some 1000 people submitted entries, and the guru-winners are here.

Image credits: Audrey Watters

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