The education business is like the funeral business: it provides a steady stream of captive clientele. And it is a business truism that wherever there are customers there is competition: every steady stream attracts a busy crowd of dam builders hoping to guide the flow in their direction.
In the RIP sector, a big target for industry consolidation over the last decade, it’s disruptive technologies like cryogenics and cremation that worry mainstream coffin-builders and cemetery lords. For the education sector, disruption has Joel Klein, formerly the Bloomberg-appointed chancellor of NYC public schools and now the CEO of the hugely ambitious Amplify, a full-service education company (that Rupert Murdoch quietly owns a lot of). Klein, whose gig in New York placed more than a million students and 135,000 employees in his charge, is a change agent. And his disruptive vision for Amplify — and thus for American students and the education system at large — is as futuristic as cryogenics (though not as sketchy) and as hot as cremation. Klein’s tenure in New York saw high school graduation rates rise by 40 percent, at least by a measure cited on Amplify’s site.
Education is always being re-imagined. From the notion of what college should provide to how early education affects toddlers, what’s best in educational technique and content is always a hot and roiling debate. Educating a society’s youth is, after all, the most obvious way in which a society influences its future.
Klein’s approach is, not surprisingly, data intensive. No matter what the stereotypical liberal arts major with a torn copy of Absalom, Absalom in his pocket believes, data drives education. Because education is big business (remember, Rupert Murdoch is in) and big business has to measure itself. Amplify provides software, consulting, assessment, professional development for educators, plus IT and core curriculum expertise — among much else. But what it’s best at is mapping things out — showing parties (from individual schools to districts to statewide) where they are currently and what they can do, might do, to reach their goals given a certain set of tools.
Amplify is particularly good at identifying actionable distinctions. The company’s recent interview with intelligence gurus Howard Gardner and Katie Davis shows a valuable tendency to segment deeper and look past generalities, such as the idea that technology is neutral. For instance interaction with today’s “apps” — even among this mysterious young generation of “digital natives” — produces wildly divergent results, according to Gardner and Davis. If educators expect to connect meaningfully with the “app generation” they had better know the difference. Amplify wants to show them how.
Is this another MySpace, where Murdoch bought in just to watch Facebook steal its lunch? Or is Amplify the game changer? Time will tell.