By KAREN MATTHEWS
NEW YORK (AP) - Former New York City schools chief Joel
Klein left to run News Corp.'s education division but
spent much of the past year defending boss Rupert Murdoch
in the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the British
The investigation into the use of information taken from
stolen phones is continuing, but Klein is back in New York
to launch Amplify, News Corp.'s entry into the
burgeoning field of digital learning.
Amplify and AT&T will fund a pilot project that will put
tablet computers in students' hands in the coming
None of the schools selected to participate will have to
pay for the program; profits will come down the road.
Students will use the tablets at school and home, and the
system will track their progress and tailor lessons to each
"What we're trying to do is really become a hub
for serious thinking and trying to make sure that
technology is a positive force," Klein said in an
interview. "Because I've long said that just
giving a kid a computer isn't going to change the
As chancellor of New York City's 1.1 million-pupil
public school system from 2002 through the end of 2010,
Klein championed policies like increasing the number of
charter schools and closing schools deemed to be failing.
He earlier served as assistant U.S. attorney general in
charge of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division
in the Clinton administration.
Klein said he has been working full-time at Amplify since
mid-June after News Corp. hired general counsel Gerson
Zweifach to focus on continuing fallout from the hacking
scandal, which broke about six months after Klein started
working at Amplify.
He would not discuss the scandal other than to say,
"The company hired a world-class general counsel. I
can go back full-time to something that I'm passionate
Klein, 65, is from a textbook generation. He pointed to
bookshelves lining his office in News Corp.'s midtown
headquarters but said today's students are less
attached to the printed page.
"These kids are so used to a world of social networks
and data aggregation," Klein said.
He said digital materials can engage students in history,
science and other subjects. He envisions students reading
the Gettysburg Address and clicking on the words "Four
score and seven years ago" to learn why Abraham
Lincoln traced the nation's birth to the Declaration of
Independence. Then they might fight the Battle of
"If games will get them engaged in the work and
excited about it, isn't that great? If they're
educational games," Klein said. "I don't want
them to sit there and play Minesweeper."
Amplify will incorporate the student assessment software
business Wireless Generation, which News Corp. acquired in
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli rejected a $27
million contract with Wireless Generation to build a data
system for tracking student performance last year, in part
because of the phone-hacking scandal. But Klein said
Wireless Generation now provides services to 3 million
students in all 50 states.
Amplify joins a growing educational technology field that
includes startups as well as traditional publishers like
McGraw-Hill. According to investment fund GSV Capital, the
number of companies that received funding to develop K-12
educational technology doubled from 2010 to 2011.
News Corp. announced Wednesday during its fourth-quarter
earnings call that it will boost investment in Amplify by
another $100 million from a year ago to $180 million in the
coming fiscal year through next June.
The National Venture Capital Association says investment in
education technology companies nationwide shot up to $429
million in 2011 from $146 million in 2002.
Betsy Corcoran, the CEO of EdSurge, which publishes a
newsletter and website on educational technology, said
school districts are sorting through the available products
to find what works.
It may take a few years, she said. "Even though there
are promising hints, we lack compelling evidence of
sure-fire successes in education technology."
Nabeel Ahmad, who teaches an educational technology course
at Columbia University's Teachers College, said
Amplify's push for tablets in the classroom seems
promising, but schools may not be ready to embrace the
"A good bet now is to find ways to slowly introduce
it," he said. "To go fully digital for the entire
school in the way that they're envisioning is still
several years out."
Companies selling classroom materials in the coming years
will strive to align them with the Common Core, a new set
of academic standards that have been adopted by 46 states
and the District of Columbia.
Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for the
National School Boards Association, said the Common Core
makes developing new educational products much easier than
if a company had to meet 50 sets of standards in 50 states.
She added that News Corp.'s experience owning the
social networking site Myspace could help it to develop
digital learning products.
Flynn also said she didn't expect any fallout from the
hacking scandal to affect Amplify.
"The success of Wireless Generation, and its
reputation with the larger education community, may have a
far greater (and positive) impact on how this new endeavor
is viewed than the News Corp. scandal," Flynn said.
Some critics distrust the rush to profit from public
education. "I don't approve of for-profit ventures
in education other than companies selling books and school
supplies," Diane Ravitch, New York University
professor and author of "The Death and Life of the
Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are
Undermining Education," said in an email.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew,
whose union representing 75,000 teachers often clashed with
Klein when he was chancellor, said the phone-hacking
scandal makes News Corp. a poor choice for the classroom.
"I don't know how anyone with any sort of common
sense would say, 'Oh, yeah, let's buy thousands of
these devices and give them access to
information,'" Mulgrew said.
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