Sunday, May 19, 2013

My twitter interchange with Murdoch about Amplify's losses, and a NYC parent responds to Amplify's sales pitch

There is bad news from Amplify, the NewsCorp subsidiary owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Joel Klein.  NPR ran a good story about the company earlier in the year.  It appears that Klein is running the business into the ground, just as he did our schools when he was Chancellor at the Department of Education. 

Joel Klein, Amplify CEO
According to one press account, Amplify lost $80 million this year alone, despite the substantial funding  (at least $44 million) it received from the Gates Foundation to build the data mining operation called inBloom Inc.   Actually, according to a presentation Joel Klein gave in December about NewsCorp's bid to capture a larger share of what he described as the $673 billion US education market, through online learning, Amplify's tablets and the new Common Core standards, Klein predicted a loss of $180 million in FY 2013, which he called "disciplined investment."

Chase Carey, NewsCorp President
On a recent earnings call, NewsCorp COO Chase Carey discussed the split that will happen this summer between the profitable parts of the company, like the cable channels and the movie studio, and the weaker divisions that include the publishing and education businesses, like Amplify:

On the earnings call COO Chase Carey went into some detail about the planned separation of the media assets and the publishing and education business…..When pressed on the increased losses at Amplify, News Corp.'s digital education business, Carey pointed to the massive potential in the space. "Education is one of the few businesses that's been left out of the digital revolution," Carey said. "It's ripe for disruption."
I tried a little twitter disruption myself on Friday night.  Nick Kristof  had just retweeted a grumpy comment Murdoch made about Facebook, comparing its lagging usage to MySpace, which Murdoch had bought for $580 million in 2005, and sold  for $35 million in 2011.
 I tweeted how much money Amplify was now losing; and to my surprise Murdoch responded:

Just a few weeks ago, I sent to the NYC Ed list  a promotional email I had received from Amplify, written by VP Pete Gorman, former Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and now chief salesman for the company.  In the email, he offered a sales pitch that was tone death and somewhat  horrifying for parents who have tried to lure their children away from screens and video games, and back into real-life interaction with other human beings.  Gorman wrote how his teenage daughter said to him, one day while walking to school:

You and Mom always say I have one job: to do well at school. When you go to your job, you don’t power down, so why do I have to?”
You could hear crickets at that moment, because I had no good answer for her. Then, as teenagers often do, my daughter took it a step too far. “Hm, I wish I knew someone who could do something about that.”
She was right. There was, in fact, a huge disconnect that was going on and, yes, I could and should do something about it. I had always felt strongly that technology, when applied the right way, could only make an effective teacher even more effective.

Talk about disconnect! You can read the rest of his explanation, called "Why I joined Amplify", supposedly prompted by this conversation with his daughter and wanting to help make sure she would never have to power off.  He also writes that Joel Klein  "was asking the same question at about the same time and decided to leave the New York City Department of Education to help start Amplify."

Pete Gorman, Amplify Vice President
No mention that it wasn't Klein's decision to leave DOE alone, but primarily Bloomberg's. Gorman was in a heap of trouble as well, facing a horde of parents furious about his decision to impose 52 (!!) new state exams.  They both left a trail of anger and dissension in their wake, if not exactly run out of town on a rail.

Here is the eloquent letter that a NYC parent wrote in response to Gorman's account of his conversation with his daughter:

Dear Mr. Gorman:
As a parent, educator and human, I am horrified by your product, the "charming" back story for it and the underlying premise of the story.  You are endorsing the view that everything that doesn't involve a screen is boring.  Human interaction, and direct interaction with three dimensional physical objects for science, math, sports etc. is obviously just not stimulating enough for our kids.  I "power-down" at work- when I'm teaching and interacting with students and colleagues!  We have no evidence that screen based learning is good for kids, but we have plenty of evidence that too much screen-time has negative results on kids' development and harms adults as well.  Kids are already in front of screens too much; so we now think it's a good idea to have kids "plugged in" during school too?  God help us.
Philip Yanos

1 comment:

  1. When Rupert is no longer at News Corp, there will be no Joel Klein or Ampify. I'm guessing many employees are counting the days.