Mexico-based telecom billionaire Carlos Slim Helu is the latest Daddy Warbucks to flock to Sal Khan and the Khan Academy since Bill Gates. In fact, Slim is ranked as the richest guy in the world according to Forbes. Slim’s foundation this month announced it signed an agreement that it will support Khan Academy translations to Spanish and help bring it to students, teachers, researchers and others in Mexico. The foundation press release didn’t disclose dollar figures but says it will provide, ”All the necessary resources” for the project. Here’s what some media are saying about this new NAFTA-rific ed tech alliance.
Kerry A. Dolan writes on Forbes.com:
The alliance between the two groups sets out a goal of having 1,000 Khan Academy videos translated into Spanish by April this year. Slim’s foundation also pledged to invest more than $300 million (4 billion pesos) over the next three years into programs that improve the development of “human capital.”
Salman Khan and his Khan Academy were featured on the cover of Forbes in November 2012 in a compelling article written by my colleague Michael Noer. Khan, 36, started Khan Academy in a closet at his home in Silicon Valley, but with backing from the likes of Bill Gates and venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife Ann, has expanded into a 36-person company serving 10 million students around the world with free video talks on the Internet explaining everything from calculus to chemistry.
Slim’s son-in-law and spokesmen Arturo Elias also met with Salman Khan and posted a photo of the two of them on Twitter mid-afternoon Eastern time on Monday. He also tweeted (in Spanish) that the Carlos Slim Foundation will bring Khan Academy to Mexico and Latin America in Spanish. Earlier Monday Elias tweeted that he would be making a big announcement about the Slim Foundation and education in Mexico and Latin America.
To read the foundation’s Activities Report is to delve into a little-publicised world of giving. Among many other things, the foundation has provided Mexicans with more than 128,000 reading glasses, 293,000 bicycles for children who live far from their schools, 245,000 scholarships and has paid for 794,000 medical operations.
Elias Ayub says that about 85 per cent of the foundations’ projects centre on health and education – two areas of human development that crop up constantly in Slim’s discourse on solving poverty. “We don’t have a spending limit,” Elias Ayub told the FT recently. “The money is there.”
So perhaps this week’s announcement should come as no surprise, considering that Slim himself once taught advanced mathematics while at university. But to judge by some of the online lessons the Khan Academy is putting out – Evaluating integral for shell method example is one of many mind-boggling examples – the whole endevour does throw up one tiny question: wouldn’t it make more sense to teach Mexican kids English instead?
Khan Academy offers thousands of free video lectures on YouTube in subjects like mathematics, physics and art history. More than 500 videos have been translated into Spanish by Mexican professors, so far.
Slim says he will also fund online classes about Mexican history to be added to the website. He says funding for the not-for-profit organization comes from a 4 billion peso ($315 million) investment over the next three years to expand internet connectivity in Mexico.
Slim made the announcement Monday together with Khan Academy’s founder, Salman Khan.
The Khan Academy also embraced some star power last year by partnering with basketball star Lebron James for Q&A-style lessons about the probability of shooting free throws, Newton’s third law, and the effects of humidity. The organization also worked with MIT to deliver student-created videos and partnered with companies producing their own educational videos, like the personal genome testing service 23andMe. Through these kinds of partnerships, Khan can continue to rapidly expand its library and strengthen its connections with entities that have a vested interest in improving education.
This year, the Khan Academy also extended its reach to deliver its content to the world by building support on more digital platforms, opening up offline access, moving into more schools, and expanding globally. This year saw Khan’s library of over 3,800 videos packaged as designated apps for the iPad in March and the iPhone in November. Although the Academy’s videos can be viewed through YouTube, the apps were created to allow for offline access, an improved interface for learning, and a way to track progress.
The BBC’s Sean Coughlan is reporting that UK-based publisher Pearson is launching a for-profit higher education program called Pearson College, which will offer a degree course validated by London universities. The bachelors degree in business will be offered to about 40 students at Pearson’s offices in London and Manchester starting this Fall. Such a program might make sense for Pearson, which owns the global Financial Times newspaper, which often writes about MBA programs and business education and conducts its own rankings of such programs. (Pearson also owns the Edexcel exam board, Penguin books, digital education businesses, course management offerings and is one of the largest educational textbook publishers). The move also furthers the notion that for-profit colleges could grow in the UK and Europe as they have in the United States. Coughlan writes:
Tuition fees will be £6,500 per year – below the average for universities, many of which are now charging £9,000 per year. There will be an option of an accelerated two-year course, as well as studying over three years. The college will not have its own degree-awarding powers – so the degree will be validated by Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, which is part of the University of London.
Pearson wants to provide a degree course which will teach practical, hands-on business skills. “We have a network of blue-chip industry relationships, many of whom are working with us on the design and delivery of our degree programmes,” said the college’s managing director Roxanne Stockwell. “This gives us an inherent understanding of the modern business environment and employer needs.”
But Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, raised concerns about the expansion of private providers in the UK university system. “Opening the door to for-profit companies in higher education is very risky, especially given this government’s failure to regulate provision and monitor courses run by private providers,” she said….
Pearson will become part of a growing but still relatively small private higher education sector. There had been ambitions for a much bigger shake-up in higher education – with the expectation of more private providers offering degree courses. But the White Paper which set out plans for a more competitive market did not become legislation. Despite this there have been some signs of private providers playing a bigger role. Last month Regent’s College in London gained its own degree-awarding powers. And BPP University College, a for-profit university with its own degree-awarding powers, announced it was expanding into health-related degree courses.
Pearson LLC has been in the news a lot lately. Here is a round up of some of the articles.
Michael Winerip of The New York Times writes about how “Free Trips Raise Issues for Officials in Education,” focusing on the Pearson Foundation sending commissioners on free trips and whether it is an ethical policy. Here are some paragraphs and links to the two stories so far on the topic.
In recent years, the Pearson Foundation has paid to send state education commissioners to meet with their international counterparts in London, Helsinki, Singapore and, just last week, Rio de Janeiro.
The commissioners stay in expensive hotels, like the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore. They spend several days meeting with educators in these places. They also meet with top executives from the commercial side of Pearson, which is one of the biggest education companies in the world, selling standardized tests, packaged curriculums and Prentice Hall textbooks.
Pearson would not say which state commissioners have gone on the trips, but of the 10 whom I was able to identify, at least seven oversee state education departments that have substantial contracts with Pearson. For example, Illinois — whose superintendent, Christopher A. Koch, went to Helsinki in 2009 and to Rio de Janeiro — is currently paying Pearson $138 million to develop and administer its tests.
Iowa has $3 million in contracts with Pearson. A spokeswoman for Dr. Glass said that he was “confident he abided by all legal and ethical rules” and that he was fully cooperating with the board.
At a time when state budgets are being cut, a free trip can look tempting. The first three years that Pearson financed the trips, no more than six commissioners attended any of them; last month, in Brazil, 12 were at the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Pearson Foundation posted a response on it’s web site:
We categorically refute that suggestion, or any implication that our partnership with CCSSO is inappropriate. There is simply no factual basis for the suggestion that the Pearson Foundation’s support for the CCSSO International Education Summits is designed to win contracts for Pearson, nor that any contract was won as a result of the Summits. On the contrary, several chief state school officers have told the New York Times that the Summits had no such intent or outcome.
Everyone from Education Secretary Arne Duncan on down understands the importance of knowing how American students are doing compared to their peers in other countries, and then learning from school leaders in high-performing nations.
These visits make it possible for our nation’s education leaders to engage in an exchange with their international counterparts, share experiences, and come home armed with new strategies and ideas to raise achievement, especially achievement for our most struggling students.
Regrettably, state and local education budgets could never provide the resources necessary for state chiefs and others to travel and collaborate in person with education ministers, reformers and innovators from Finland, Singapore, Brazil, or other nations who are more than willing to share their insights and best practices with us. If it were left to public funds, it simply wouldn’t happen, and the opportunity to improve our schools would be lost.
CCSSO plans the summit agendas, invites its members and other education leaders, and issues reports summarizing findings from the Summits. And, as those education officials who have attended the summits have recently attested in public statements, participants from all nations return home with a greater understanding of the challenges facing their students, and with fresh ideas and a reinvigorated will to take them on.
We vigorously contest both columns. And we deeply regret the possibility that they may undermine the good intentions and the good work of the education leaders who took part in these important professional exchanges.
If in the future they are inhibited from meeting with their international counterparts and applying the lessons learned in their own classrooms, then those who will be most harmed will be the students they serve.
Meanwhile, Pearson is also drawing fire in Texas as Abby Rapoport writes a critical article (Sept. 6, 2011) in The Texas Observer titled, “Education Inc.: How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.”
Pearson is a London-based mega-corporation that owns everything from the Financial Times to Penguin Books, and also dominates the business of educating American children. The company promotes its many education-related products on a website that features an idyllic, make-believe town. It’s called Pearsonville, and it looks like the international conglomerate version of SimCity. In this virtual town, school buses whizz through tree-lined streets, and the city center features skyscrapers and a tram. Tabs pop up to show you just how many Pearson products are available. A red schoolhouse features young kids using Pearson products to learn math (with Pearson’s enVision Math) and take standardized tests online. Nearby, at the Pearsonville high school, students use the company’s online instructional materials to study science. The high school also features online testing. Pearson online courses are available at the town library. At the model home, parents can use Pearson’s student information system to track their children’s grades. The “test centre,” not shockingly, provides even more testing options. It’s a beautiful little town. A Las Vegas-style sign welcomes you, while a biplane flies through the sky trailing a Pearson banner behind it.
Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams. If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass. Meanwhile, kids are likely to use textbooks from Pearson-owned publishing houses like Prentice Hall and Pearson Longman. Students who want to take virtual classes may well find themselves in a course subcontracted to Pearson. And if the student drops out, Pearson partners with the American Council on Education to offer the GED exam for a profit.
“Pearson basically becomes a complete service provider to the education system,” says David Anderson, an Austin education lobbyist whose clients include some of Pearson’s competitors.
In 1998, Pearson hired a new CEO from Texas, Marjorie Scardino. She joined a company with a diverse and haphazard set of interests; in addition to the Financial Times and Penguin Books, the mega-company owned everything from Madame Tussauds wax museums to a stake in investment bank Lazard. Scardino sought to focus the company on one broad industry—education. Soon after Scardino’s arrival, Pearson bought Simon & Schuster’s education businesses and opened a new, overarching company—Pearson Education. Two years later, in a controversial move, Pearson acquired the Minnesota-based testing company National Computer Systems for $2.5 billion and began expanding into assessments. By 2004, Scardino ranked 59th on Forbes’ list of the “100 Most Powerful Women in the World.” By 2009, she was 19th.
Her timing was excellent. The education field was facing new and vehement demand for more testing and accountability in schools. Texas had been leading the way in state-mandated standardized testing, and by the time Pearson acquired National Computer Systems in 2000, the company had already signed a $233 million contract with the Lone Star State. With the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, all states were required to use a standard test to determine how students were learning. Pearson continued buying testing companies, including the testing services division of Harcourt. Last year, Pearson signed yet another contract with Texas to create the latest iterations of the state’s testing system, the new and more rigorous “end-of-course” and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams.
Pearson now creates the tools to grade the tests and the software to analyze student performance. That’s in addition to textbooks, remedial learning resources, GED courses and online classes. (Pearson officials refused comment for this story.)
But despite Pearson’s prevalence in nearly every sector of public education, state officials say they maintain oversight. The Texas Education Agency monitors Pearson’s test development and often works side-by-side with the company. Gloria Zyskowski, the deputy associate commissioner, says the agency communicates with Pearson almost daily. She says that TEA uses a transparent bidding process to contract the work and follows a strict series of steps to build and score the tests. In creating test questions, the agency recruits teachers and former teachers to sit on an advisory committee. Pearson employees facilitate advisory committees, but the company isn’t writing the test questions by itself.
But when the company—like many for-profits—wants to get its way in education policy, Pearson isn’t shy about deploying high-powered lobbyists. Pearson pays six lobbyists to advocate for the company’s legislative agenda at the Texas Capitol—often successfully. This legislative session, lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education, including funding for a variety of programs to help struggling students improve their performance on state tests. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact. Bills that would have reduced the state’s reliance on tests didn’t pass. The Texas Senate refused to pass any bills that would have diminished the role of testing, a stance some Capitol sources attribute to Pearson’s lobbying, while others give the credit to pressure from reform advocates.
Who’s responsible may not matter. The interests of corporate lobbyists and reform advocates are often the same. It’s difficult to separate the businessmen from the believers.
What do you think of the concerns over Pearson’s influence in a state like Texas? Is it better to have one major provider like them? Is it normal for publicly-traded companies to maximize profits and improve education while doing so? Or should states like Texas be wary?
Meanwhile, as a final piece of our round-up, here is another NYT story about Pearson’s plan to move offices and employees from New Jersey to Manhattan… reaping a host of tax benefits:
The educational media company, a division of the corporation, based in London, that publishes The Financial Times, said Monday that it would move about 650 jobs to Manhattan from suburban offices in New Jersey and Westchester County. Some of the cost of moving will be offset by at least $13.5 million, and possibly as much as $50 million, in tax breaks and other incentives offered by city and state agencies in New York.
City officials framed the arrangement as a victory over New Jersey officials, who have been offering large packages of financial incentives to attract and retain big employers. But just last week, New Jersey agreed to provide $82 million in cost savings to Pearson, which plans to take more than 1, 200 jobs out of Upper Saddle River, N.J., by 2014 and send more than 600 of them to Hoboken, N.J. One of the stated reasons for New Jersey’s largess was to keep all those jobs from going to Manhattan.
So, to recap: Pearson could receive as much as $132 million in incentives for deciding to move half its Upper Saddle River jobs to Manhattan and the other half to Hoboken. But the net gain in jobs for the New York metropolitan area would be close to zero. And still, officials on both sides of the Hudson River seemed quite pleased with the deals they had struck.
Publishing and education giant Pearson PLC said, Thursday, that it plans to buy online charter school operator Connections Education for $400 million in cash. The London-based company said virtual public schools that cater to non-traditional students such as home-schoolers are a large, fast-growing segment of education in the United States. Many of these schools are funded by states and are free to student who attend.
Pearson said Connections Education has produced revenue growth of 30% or more for the past three years.
The acquisition adds to Pearson’s growing U.S. education holdings. In April, the company announced its plans to buy education technology company Schoolnet for $230 million in cash. Based in New York, Schoolnet serves more than 5 million U.S. students from pre-kindergarten age through the 12th grade.
In July, the company said its international education division led a gain it its first-half operating profit. Its North American education unit also again topped the company’s revenue table.
Pearson is the publisher of the Financial Times and Penguin books. The company’s stock rose 51 cents, or 3 percent, to $17.68 in afternoon trading.
Through its Connections Academy business, the company operates online or ‘virtual’ public schools in 21 states in the US—serving more than 40,000 students in the current school year. These virtual charter schools are accredited and funded by the relevant state and are free to parents and students who choose a virtual school in place of a traditional public institution or other schooling options.
Virtual schools serve a diverse population of students including those who may be gifted, struggling, pursuing careers in sports or the arts, in need of scheduling flexibility, or who have chosen home schooling. It is a large and rapidly-growing segment in US K-12 education: in 2010, 48 states and Washington, D.C. had virtual school programmes and 27 states allowed virtual charter schools. Approximately 200,000 students attended full-time online courses and an estimated 1.5 million students took one or more courses online. (Source: Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning, 2010, Evergreen Education Group).
Connections Education has produced revenue growth of more than 30% in each of the past three years and expects to generate revenues of approximately $190m in 2011. Pearson expects the acquisition to enhance adjusted earnings per share from 2012, its first full year, including integration costs, and to generate a return on invested capital above Pearson’s weighted average cost of capital from 2013. The transaction is subject to a Hart-Scott-Rodino review.
Since its founding in 2001, Connections Academy has built a complete virtual school system to support personalized learning for each student. This includes high-quality teachers, training for learning coaches (who are often parents), digital and print curriculum materials (already often from Pearson), provision of computers, assessment and reporting tools, social events and learning technologies. Connections Academy has developed proprietary technologies including education management system Connexus which provides on-demand access to schedules, lessons, gradebooks, resources and teachers; teaching tool LiveLesson which allows teachers to lead real-time interactive and adaptive classes over the internet; and a wide range of multimedia curriculum tools and games.
Michael Horn writes a blog post at Forbes, giving his take on the significance of this deal:
The challenge for Pearson now is can they manage the “innovator’s dilemma” properly and maintain their leadership in this industry, or will they have acquired a disruptive company only to let the mainstream business take its assets and kill its distinctive processes and priorities. Pearson continues to acquire interesting assets; the challenge is to get the structures and business models right from the acquisitions—something that isn’t easy, but we’re learning more about how to do in smart ways. Pearson appears keenly aware of the opportunity and odds of success at least.
Lastly, this should open up more room for education entrepreneurs. First, the exit for Connections—$400 million in cash—is a good one at least in monetary terms, which should encourage more investors to enter the space. Second, as this consolidation now occurs in the space, I suspect this may open up more headroom for some education startups in the near term.
As the education industry continues to consolidate, Education Week pointed out today’s deal made Pearson the first of the “big three” textbook publishers (Houghton Mifflin and McGraw-Hill are the others) to take such a big step into online schooling. Pearson’s stock rose 3 percent following the news, the Associated Press noted.
Connections Education is one of the nation’s “two dominant players” in online schooling, along with K12 Inc., according to a 2010 report on for-profit charter school operators, but while it may be an award-winning giant in the growing field its growth in Texas hasn’t gone quite according to plan.
Independent news source & thought center for the online education community.