Greetings from South Tyrol

Law and Politics

President Obama has put forth his 2014 budget, and the education portion proposes to wipe away all outstanding student loan debt, fund free preschool for all children, bring about an end to high stakes standardized testing and an end to Race to the Top, provide free health services for students, and earmark more money for arts and music programs, libraries, and school counselors. Sike!

PBS's John Merrow has uncovered "a missing memo" that suggests that former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was fully aware that there was widespread cheating on standardized tests. Merrow's 4500-word piece, "Michelle Rhee's Reign of Error" is worth reading, and I'd add too that investigative journalism in education is worth supporting.

Mark Zuckerberg, along with other Silicon Valley tycoons, has launched a SuperPAC,, which will tackle immigration reform (particularly for those “most talented and hardest-working people” — that is, tech types) and education reform (that is, “higher standards and accountability in schools, support for good teachers and a much greater focus on learning about science, technology, engineering and math”). Many of those on board with the SuperPAC are investors in education technology startups and charter schools, so this should be fun to watch how they “hack” policy.

Inside Higher Ed reports on a proposed law in North Carolina that would remove the state income tax break for parents who allow their college student children to register to vote in the towns where they attend school. Because, ya know, “democracy.”

Tennessee lawmakers have tabled their proposed legislation that would cut families’ welfare benefits if students didn’t perform well in school. A shout-out here to 8-year-old Aamira Fetuga who followed the lawmaker behind the bill, Rep. Stacey Campbell, around the Capital asking him questions about his incredibly mean-spirited proposal.

A bill in California called the Textbook Relief Act is moving on to committee. The title of AB–479 sounds great, sure, but reading the fine print raises lots of questions. The bill will exempt from state sales tax just those textbooks sold by university bookstores or “textbook-only” stores in the state. (So purchases from Amazon, for example, are ineligible.) And “textbook” in this case, “does not include books on audio tape, computer disc, cd-rom, or similar storage media.” Well played, college bookstores. Well played.

Florida legislators are working on a bill, akin to one proposed in California, that would let officials in the state bypass the regional accreditation process and accredit individual courses on their own – including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers. I can’t imagine anything would go wrong with that. Can you?

Launches and Upgrades

The learning management system Instructure unveiled its new App Center this week (although it won’t officially launch ’til InstructureCon, its annual conference, this summer). The App Center will offer teachers, students, and administrators a one-click installation of a variety of apps (100 at launch) into Canvas.

Khan Academy is teaming up with Bank of America, the good folks who helped bring about the banking/mortgage crisis, to teach us all “Better Money Habits.” I used up all my snark about this news on Twitter, which was greatly enhanced by a response from the BofA customer service, asking me to DM them with my property address and my concerns.

NextGenU had its official launch this week. It provides a portal for free online courses (for interest or for credit) in the health sciences. More details here.

Amplify, the education division of News Corp, is teaming up with the education startup Clever. The latter will help integrate Amplify’s tablets with schools’ student information systems, reports Edsurge, which calls this a “huge deal” for Clever. Indeed, paying for data integration instead of just hacking phones to get what you want seems like a huge deal for News Corp too.


On the heels of its acquisition of the language-learning community Livemocha and its promise to move “to the cloud,” Rosetta Stone says it’s closing down the last of its famous airport and mall kiosks.

Obligatory MOOC News Section

EdX and San Jose State University announced this week that they’re collaborating on an initiative that would expand the offering of a “blended” version of the MOOC platform’s Engineering Circuits and Electronics to 11 other California university campuses. According to the press release, “San Jose State will concurrently establish a Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning to train faculty members from other campuses interested in offering the engineering course and other blended online courses in the future.” More details from the press conference here (where my question — “is edX charging schools money for this?” was answered in the affirmative.)

Coursera is making money — $220,000 in the first quarter, reports Inside Higher Ed. That revenue comes from those in the “signature track,” who pay for a “verified certificate” in classes they complete. At a Coursera-focused conference at UPenn, the company revealed that “70 or 80 percent of paid users are finishing courses.”

Other Classes and Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards were released this week. Developed by 26 states and many science organizations, the new standards aim to cover fewer ideas (including -- gasp! -- climate change) but in more depth, with an emphasis on hands-on learning and not just memorizing facts.

The Atlantic offers a look at libertarian, former Congressman, and two-time presidential candidate Ron Paul’s new homeschool curriculum, which includes info on starting a home business, building a website, defending the free market, and understanding basic science. If he’d just called it a MOOC, I bet he could’ve got VC funding.

Funding and Acquisitions

The evil Elsevier has acquired the much-loved Mendeley. OK, that’s a bit of a polemical way to describe the news, but reading the responses from many academics, it’s fairly clear that the acquisition isn’t popular. As danah boyd explains in a blog post on why she’ll now abandon Mendeley’s bibliographic tool for the open source alternative Zotero, “Elsevier published fake journals until it got caught. Its parent company was involved in the arms trade until it got caught. Elsevier played an unrepentant and significant role in advancing SOPA/PIPA/RWA and continues to lobby on issues that undermine scholarship. Elsevier currently actively screws over academic libraries and scholars through its bundling practices.”

The learn-to-code startup Treehouse has raised $7 million in Series B funding from Kaplan Ventures. More details at Techcrunch.

And the learn-to-code startup Tynker has raised $3.25 million in funding from 500 Startups, NEA, Felicis Ventures, NewSchools Venture Fund, Cervin Ventures, GSV Advisors, XG Ventures, and others. More details at Techcrunch.

Ashai Net International has acquired the Sakai Division (that is, the learning management system division) of rSmart. More details on the acquisition on e-Literate.

From the HR Department

Education Week reports that Jim Shelton, the Department of Education’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, is in line to become the department’s Deputy Secretary, replacing Tony Miller.

Research and Survey Data

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a report on federal student loan debt for those who do not complete their degrees. Among the findings, “the cumulative amount borrowed per credit earned was highest for non-completers in for-profit institutions ($350 per credit, compared with $80 to $190 per credit” at public and private non-profit schools). Also “in 2009, the median cumulative federal student debt for all non-completers amounted to 35 percent of their annual income; debt burden was highest for students in 4-year private nonprofit institutions (median debt equaled 51 percent of borrowers’ annual income). Debt burden among non-completers who started in for-profit institutions increased from 20 percent to 43 percent of annual income between 2001 and 2009.”

Among the findings in a new survey (PDF) commissioned by the Association Of American Colleges And Universities, “employers recognize the importance of today’s colleges and universities providing a liberal education—one that focuses on both broad knowledge in a variety of areas and knowledge in a specific field of interest, as well as intellectual and practical skills that span all areas of study and a sense of social responsibility.” When given this description of a “liberal education,” 94% of those employers said that it was important that colleges provide students with this. I'm sure Zuckerberg's SuperPAC will lobby accordingly.

Photo credits: Harald Hoyer, the Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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