Along with the big release last week of Amplify's tablet, produced by the education arm of media conglomerate News Corp, came details of the product that will vie for a spot in the growing education tablet market.
Amplify's tablet runs on the Android platform and comes pre-loaded with a curriculum that's aligned to Common Core State Standards. It's 10 inches long, with a hard exterior shell, and is pre-loaded with its own learning software, as well as Google Apps for Education, dictionaries, multimedia lessons, Encyclopedia Britannica, Khan Academy lessons, a graphing calculator. If the company wins rights from publishers, it can also be loaded with electronic textbooks. What's more, teachers can keep track of students' progress, as well as have access to classroom management tools that allow them to turn off apps when needed.
But, as Tech Crunch asks, "What in the sam hill is News Corp. doing messing around in education?"
Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, and now an executive vice president at News Corp, says it's time to shake up education. "It's not about hardware, it's not about devices, it's really about learning," Klein told NPR. "And if this does what I believe it will do — which is enhance the teaching and learning processes — then it's going to be a home run."
But industry watchers have other ideas.
- Tech Crunch focuses on the profit angle:
"While the News Corp. founder’s sudden transformation into an education reform advocate may seem a head-scratcher, the motivation becomes clear when, in Murdoch’s terms, one considers that K-12 education is a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone — and one that remains relatively untouched by corporations like News Corp."
- NPR points to the questioning of teachers' roles:
"Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit Class Size Matters in New York City, said Klein and Murdoch 'believe that public school kids should have larger classes, and instead of getting personalized instruction via their teachers, should do it via a computer.'
- Forbes' tech analyst Roger Kay takes on the political angle:
"From my point of view, the problem with News being in this business is that it creates a channel to our youngest, most vulnerable minds for a guy with extreme politics and highly questionable ethics," Kay wrote. Unlike the transparent profit motives of companies like Apple and Google, News Corp's motivations should be further questioned, he said.
- The New York Times questions the security of student data.
“I’m very concerned about them tracking children or using their data because they’ve proven not to be very trustworthy on that,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, in light of News Corp's history with the phone-hacking scandal.
News Corp is dividing into two separate companies this summer. Amplify will be part of the publishing division along with The Wall Street Journal and Harper Collins. The New York Times reports News Corp is investing heavily in Amplify; it spent $360 million in 2010 to acquire 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a company specializing in data and assessment tools for teachers. And Amplify had operational losses of $180 million in 2012 as they built their business. But the company is betting that is money well spent.
Klein told NPR that Amplify should not be confused with its corporate siblings that often serve as a platform for political stands.
"Rupert realized this from the beginning: This is a division that's going to be focused on education," Klein said. "We don't have a political mission — none whatsoever. What we're doing is developing materials in math and science and the English language arts — designed by leading experts.
"Our commitment," Klein said, "is education only. We have no subsidiary agenda."