White House

Laws and Politics and Patents

President Obama unveiled his proposals for major immigration reform this week in a speech in Las Vegas. Among these, expedited citizenship to undocumented immigrants who have been brought to the country by their parents and who are in college (or have served in the military for at least two years). Another proposal would expand the visas for workers with advanced degrees in STEM fields by automatically granting them green card status upon graduation from “qualified U.S. universities.” Inside Higher Ed has more details on the how the immigration plan would affect education.

The supposedly “private” photo-sharing social network Path has reached a $800,000 settlement with the FTC over its violation of COPPA. More details at Ars Technica.

In The Public Interest, a privatization watchdog group, released emails that it had obtained through public records requests, detailing the relationships between Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Education Excellence, government officials, and various education technology corporations. It’s certainly not the first time that questions have been raised about Bush’s foundation, political influence and profits. (It’s not the first time a Bush has been accused of such things either. Ignite! Learning anyone?) See last fall’s reporting in the Portland Press Herald for details on what has happened in Maine. This week’s emails come from Maine, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida.

The for-profit DeVry University has been hit with a lawsuit alleging that school officials tried to bribe students as it attempted to work its way around federal regulations.

TorrentFreak reports that the University of Illinois is disconnecting the Internet of students who are accused of piracy after their first warning. “When copyright holders send a DMCA notice informing the university about unauthorized BitTorrent downloads, the student’s dorm room is immediately cut off from the Internet.”

13 U.S. government agencies and NGOs signed a “Declaration of Learning” this week, formally announcing their partnership as members of the Inter-Agency Collaboration on Education, an initiative spearheaded by (now former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In another end-of-term announcement, Clinton unveiled the Open Book Project, an initiative of the State Department and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization to provide more OER in Arabic. I couldn’t really find any details on what content is going to be translated or openly licensed, so is it wrong if I’m a little suspicious of this?

The New America Foundation issued a report this week with a series of proposals to change how federal financial aid is dispersed. Among the 30 some-odd recommendations, the government should make the funding for the Pell Grant program an entitlement in the federal budget and should up the amount of individual grants. More thoughts from Dean Dad here.

The patent system in the U.S. is broken. Case in point, the awarding this week of a patent to the University of Phoenix for its Academic Activity Stream, an educational news feed. There’s lots of prior art here, including Facebook’s patent on the news feed itself. Phil Hill offers more thoughts on e-Literate. Will ed-tech soon see round 2 of the great LMS patent wars (Blackboard v Desire2Learn) with the University of Phoenix going after those who use news feeds in their software (namely Instructure, Edmodo, Schoology, Pearson’s OpenClass…)?

Launches and Upgrades

Welcome to the beta of Scratch 2.0. There are lots of new features (which I haven’t had a chance to dig into yet, I confess), including new blocks and a new block editor.

A very cool initiative out of Chicago: Starter League (a learn-to-code startup formerly known as Code Academy that I covered here) is going to teach Web development to Chicago Public School teachers, with the hopes that, in turn, they'll teach Web literacy to their students.

As a general rule, I find the whole learning management system thing “meh” at best. But this is an interesting project: LearnDash, a WordPress plugin that lets you create courses, set up quizzes, and track user info. It also takes advantage of the TinCan API (which I wrote about here).

iversity, an online course collaboration tool, has unveiled a number of updates to its platform, including an improved Q&A section and more robust student portfolio. (I covered iversity here.)

The University of Reddit, a subreddit that lets teachers offer online classes and communicate with students, announced this week its plans to create a non-profit called Open Compass, to leave the Reddit platform, and to build out a new platform for — you guessed it — offering MOOCs.

From the makers of the bibliographic tool EasyBib another aid for research and writing: ResearchReady. This tool is meant to support students in learning how to conduct research and in particular how to avoid plagiarism.

Another week, another ed-tech accelerator launches. This one is in Boston: LearnLaunchX. The accelerator program will run for 3 months, and the participating startups will get $18,000 in funding in exchange for giving LearnLaunchX a 6% equity stake in their companies.

And proof that Boston really likes to add “X” to the end of all its ed-tech initiatives, the city announced a partnership with Harvard and MIT and edX to launch BostonX. “The goal of BostonX is to make free online courses available through Internet-connected Boston neighborhood community centers, high schools and libraries. The project will bring together innovators from the country’s center of higher education to offer Boston residents access to courses, internships, job training, and placement services, and locations for edX students to gather, socialize, and deepen learning.”

Venture Funding and Student Debt

The wonderfully cheap and hackable Raspberry Pi (one of my favorite ed-tech startups) announced this week that it had received a grant from Google Giving to provide some 15,000 Raspberry Pis to schoolkids in the U.K.

Who were the top ed-tech acquirers last year? According to data from CB Insights, reported by GigaOm, the biggest ed-tech deals of the year were made by John Wiley & Sons, Pearson, Blackboard, and Vista Equity Partners.

Techcrunch reports that the “crowdsourced college counseling” startup Mytonomy has raised $250,000 in seed funding from New Schools Venture Fund and Kapor Capital.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a third of the $900 million in outstanding student loan debt was held by subprime borrowers. Furthermore, “33% of all subprime student loans in repayment were 90 days or more past due in March 2012, up from 24% in 2007.”

Pluto Media, which describes itself in a press release as a “leading tablet edutainment company,” has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Learn Capital and New School Ventures Fund.

How did the Walton Family Foundation (one of the big 3 philanthropies in U.S. education) spend its education reform dollars in 2012? Some $60 million went to shape policy, $72 million went to “create quality schools.” The organization, run by the family of the Walmart founder, spent a total of $158,142,809. Recipients include the startup investment fund New Schools Venture Fund ($1.1 million) and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst ($2 million).

Details of the funding weren’t disclosed but The Next Web reports that the Brazilian online learning startup Descomplica (which makes online videos and tests) has raised money from Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Valor Capital Group and EL Area, Dave McClure’s 500Startups, and Social+Capital Partnership.

The Bangalore-based ed-tech startup CodeLearn has raised $150,000, according to The Times of India.

The non-profit WorldReader, which helps promote literacy in the developing world by distributing Kindles full of e-books, has received a $500,000 donation from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Some days, it’s hard to not be so very deeply cynical about all this ed-tech stuff.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now the biggest university donor in the U.S., thanks to the $1.1 billion he’s given to his alma mater Johns Hopkins. (Ian Bogost offers an interesting juxtaposition between this donation and another billionaire, Mark Cuban’s claims — issued the same day as Bloomberg’s announcement — about the dismal prospects of universities.)

Human Resources

John Danner, founder of the Rocketship Education chain of charter schools, is stepping down as CEO. His resignation, announced this week and effective immediately, will allow him to pursue his next startup, an online learning company. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Danner’s no-name company – which besides himself includes two programmers in Bulgaria – will begin testing its first prototype next week at one of Rocketship’s schools.”

You’ve probably missed the job application deadline by now, but a bit of a kerfuffle in the Texas ISD over a Craigslist listing posted by Pearson. The education giant was looking for folks to grade the written portion of the state’s standardized tests. $12 an hour. “Bachelor degree required – any field welcome.”

”Research” and “Data”

Bill Gates says that data will save us. Phew!

“Study: Nearly half are overqualified for their jobs” read the headline in the USA Today. It was a story, nicely fitting into the "college is a bubble" narrative" and perfectly designed for uncritical Facebook sharing. Few folks asked questions about the organization behind the study, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. (Oh. It’s a Koch Brothers-supported “libertarian think tank” more than happy to defund education.) Few took the time to ponder why taxi drivers might be such a highly educated population. (A significant number of cabbies are immigrants, who come to this country with college degrees but struggle to find work.) Mike Caulfield has a great take-down on the whole thing

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum has the best headline: “Big Surprise: Yet Another Ed Reform Turns Out to be Bogus.” You know how everyone has pointed to the San Jose Unified School District as an example of how higher standards for students produce better results and how forcing more students to take college prep before they graduate high school means more students actually go to college? (You know how many schools have followed suit with similar policies?) Yeah, well it turns out the San Jose Unified officials have overstated their accomplishments and touted a lot of false data. The LA Times has the full story.

According to a new CREDO report, the first 3 years of a charter school are pretty indicative of how well it will succeed in the future. “Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly. Similarly, if a school is successful in producing strong academic progress from the start, our analysis shows it will remain a strong and successful school.” More from the Educated Reporter Emily Richmond here.

The Department of Education released school-level assessment data this week for all schools for the 2008–9 to 2010–11 school years. According to the DOE’s press release, “They provide information on the total number of students who were assessed and received a valid score, along with the calculated percent of those students who score at or above state grade level proficiency. Information is presented on student subgroups at each grade level assessed within the school, along with information on the school as a whole.” The assessment data, available for math and reading, is available at

According to the latest report from the Book Industry Study Group, more college students say they prefer digital to print textbooks — “the popularity of digital textbooks may have hit a tipping point,” says the BISG. Maybe. It used to be that 72% of students said they prefer print. The latest figures now have that at just 60%.

Tony Bates takes a closer look at recent U.S. Census data, noting its potential impact on online learning. More than half of college students work more than 20 hours a week, and almost half of grad students work full-time. That certainly means that the flexibility that online classes offer are going to be very, very appealing.

Some very interesting demographics from a recent Coursera class on Computational Investing. And okay, granted, this isn’t an introductory class. But for those proclaiming that MOOCs will “revolutionize” who has access to university material, take note: 4.8% who enrolled completed the class. Of those (who responded to the survey and) completed the class, 34% were from the U.S. and 27% from non-OECD countries. 70% were white. 92% were male. Over 40% already had a Master’s Degree. Viva la MOOC revolucion!


With all the hype and hullaballoo about ed-tech revolutions, let’s stop a minute to remember the digital divide, eh? It’s a divide that includes access to broadband connectivity, something that millions of Americans still don’t have at home. The Wall Street Journal reported this week on students who study at McDonalds (which offers free WiFi) after the local library closes.

There’s a similar story in Techdirt this week: the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has abandoned its $2 million online textbook program “after running into system requirements that prevented some of its students from taking advantage of the digital books.” One requirement: broadband or DSL at home.

Competitions and Classes

It’s time for the 2013 Google Science Fair, an online competition for those age 13 to 18. Deadline to enter is April 30.

You know what’s gonna make college easier? Facebook Apps. I guess. So reads this story in Techcrunch announcing the winners of a recent Facebook and Gates Foundation app contest. Congrats to the winners, don’t get me wrong, but I gotta note cynically here that neither Techcrunch nor Facebook nor the Gates Foundation could actually get the count right on the number of winners. 17? 20? 21? So here’s hoping that these apps help with arithmetic, eh?

IBM’s Watson — best known for its win on Jeopardy — is headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the company says. “At RPI, the Watson system will give professors and students an opportunity to find new uses for the technology, allowing students to gain experience with big data analytics and, in turn, deepen the system’s abilities,” according to The Chronicle.

(Sorta makes me feel like I’ve picked a really good time to write a book on AI and ed-tech, eh? And as such, my apologies once again for the light posting here on Hack Education.)

Photo credits: Audrey Watters

Audrey Watters


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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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