The Common Core: A Dream Come True for the Publishing & Media Industries

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Imagine what it would be like if every school district in the U.S. used the same core (standards) curriculum, and that every few years, new textbooks and media products needed to purchased.

If the Common Standards are fully adopted across the nation, then it will be a booming business for media and publishing companies.

But it is not as simple as that.  There are heavy hitters out there that have grasped control of not only digital and print publishing of text material, but also control over high-stakes testing that will be based on one of two systems, the PARCC Assessment System, or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

In an article by Beth Bacon over on Digital Book World, the environment for publishing is booming thanks in part to the adoption by most states of the Common Core.  Bacon also points out that falling tech prices, and the hunger for digital tools and materials has contributed to the boom.  Bacon uses the term “democratization of publishing,” but as I will show ahead, this is hardly the case.   However, it is the fact that American schools will be held accountable to the same set of standards that has propelled publisher ambitions.  In her article, Bacon quotes Justin Hamilton, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Amplify.  Here is part of that conversation:

“The Common Core is the equivalent of the transcontinental railroad,” said Hamilton, “We’ve moving from a patchwork of standards across the country to common standards from coast to coast. It opens doors to inspire the best and the brightest to develop new, effective curricula.”

These new Common Core-based curricula often integrate digital media and internet connectivity via tablets. Some of the curricula are being developed by new publishers like Hamilton’s company, Amplify. Other digital textbooks are being created by traditional publishers. Still others are being designed by innovative school districts that have developed successful programs and want to share that success with others.

In the past, Hamilton has observed, conventional publishers created textbooks for the largest four states (Texas, New York, Florida and California) then “tinkered around” with those main textbooks to create textbooks the other 46 states. “It’s like conventional publishing has been serving four entries with unlimited side dishes,” said Hamilton. With that model, the driving force in educational publishing had been marketing, not innovation. (Bacon, B. 3 Reasons Educational Publishing is Booming. DBW. July 13, 2013).

But there is something very interesting about Bacon’s article, and that is the companies that she gives a mention: Amplify (education division of News Corp), Khan Academy, c-K12, and Desmos.

But Amplify gets the lions share of space in the article, and here is why.

Amplify is the education division of News Corp, a multinational mass media corporation,   To expand on my concern about the connection between the Common Standards and publishing corporation, New Corp is a good example.  News Corporation owns the following: New Unlimited in Australia, News International in the U.K., The Times, and the Sun in the U.K, Dow Jones & Company, The Wall Street journal, HarperCollins, Fox Entertainment Group, 20th Century Fox film studio, and the Fox Broadcasting Company.  It was also the owner of News of the World, the company responsible for phone hacking.  This is a huge company that seemingly has limitless resources, as well as powerful connections in the world of education.  It’s revenue in 2012 was $33.7 billion, and 48,000 employees.

In 2010, Joel Klein, former New York City School Chancellor was named executive vice president for News Corporation, and then later brought with him executives from New York City to head-up News Corp’s education division.

Amplify, according to its website, is built on the foundation of Wireless Generation, a company that creates mobile assessments and instruction analytics to schools across America.  Amplify’s digital products are “data-driven” and they are rolling out mobile learning for a new world of digital curriculum and assessment.

Doesn’t this sound very familiar.  It sounds like Bill Gates was whispering in the ears of executives at News Corp.

So here we have a gigantic company with unlimited resources ready to create digital materials that will be matched to one set of standards in mathematics and English/Language Arts.

So, Amplify will not only develop digital curriculum (in English/language arts, math, and science) matched to the Common Standards, it just announced a new tablet that was designed by Intel Education.  The new Amplify ELA curriculum is integrated with the new tablet. The new tablet will be out for the 2014 – 2015 school year at about $199 per year per student for three years.   The content that students will use using the tablet will be preloaded and developed by Amplify partners including cK-12, Desmos and others.

The Common Core has created an environment in which big corporations with power and resources will take the largest share of the education market, a market which has become standardized.   But more than that, it will build and sell tools that will result in vast amounts of data being collected (tablets in a wireless environment) on every move a student makes.

In the Digital Ocean, which I wrote about earlier this week, the delivery of instruction in a digital era will make it easy to track and test students, more so than can be done today.

What do you think is the effect of adopting the Common Standards the nature of teaching materials that will reach the classroom?

Photo Sean MacEntee, Creative Commons Attribution

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.