Advantage Learning Systems changes its name

Advantage Learning Systems Inc., a provider of learning information systems and training to the K-12 market, announced plans on Sept. 7 to change its name to Renaissance Learning.

The move emphasizes the emerging importance of the company’s Renaissance brands, under which it reportedly has trained more than 250,000 K-12 teachers on how to achieve substantial educational gains through the effective use of its software.

While the company intends to start doing business immediately as Renaissance Learning, its legal name change is subject to shareholder approval at its 2001 annual meeting in April.

“We’ll naturally retain recognized individual brands such as Accelerated Reader, but ‘Renaissance’ best expresses the big picture of what the company is all about: software and training, backed by research, to produce dramatic school improvement in all key academic areas,” said Michael Baum, the company’s chief executive.

Once typified as a reading software developer due to its successful Accelerated Reader program, the company now also provides math and writing software; computer-adaptive tests in reading, math, and early literacy; teacher training in reading, math, classroom management, and test preparation; and total school improvement programs.

Houghton Mifflin backs new online learning venture

Houghton Mifflin Co. and two partners are providing $30.4 million to start an online education venture, unveiled Sept. 7, that promises new services to help teachers and their students.

The company, Classwell Learning Group, will distinguish itself from online competitors by the range and sophistication of tools it offers teachers to help improve performance, David Cappellucci, president and chief executive, told the Boston Globe.

Cappellucci said he knew of no web site today “that integrates robust tools and content and organizes those around state and local learning frameworks and standards.”

Joining Houghton Mifflin in sponsoring the new company are Sylvan Ventures and Inception Capital. Sylvan, of Baltimore, develops and invests in educational technology firms. Inception, like Houghton Mifflin a Boston firm, invests in eCommerce.

Classwell’s basic service will be available in January at www.classwell.com, Cappellucci said. A more complete version is scheduled to be offered next September.

The service will be sold primarily to school districts but also to individual schools. Cappellucci said it will suggest different approaches to teachers when students have trouble grasping a concept. It also will offer extra help, online and off, to the student. Individual home pages will allow parents to check on their children’s progress and get advice on helping them master a particular topic. Houghton Mifflin will provide some of the content for the service.

Mattel unloads money-losing Learning Company

Mattel Inc. is unloading its money-losing Learning Company unit in a virtual giveaway, ending a disastrous foray into software publishing that brought down the chief executive of the world’s largest toymaker.

Mattel, which paid $3.5 billion in stock for the Learning Company last year, will sell the business to an affiliate of Gores Technology Group in Los Angeles for rights to a share of future profits. That means no cash up front and no guarantee of money in the future, analysts said. The deal was announced Sept. 29.

The Learning Company’s software titles include Reader Rabbit and Carmen Sandiego, but it turned out to be a drag on Mattel’s earnings, losing as much as $1 million per day.

Mattel stock has lost more than half its value since Mattel bought the Learning Company in May 1999. The slide helped lead to the resignation of Mattel chief executive Jill Barad, one of the highest ranking women in business.

Mattel will take a $430 million after-tax loss on the sale and eliminate 350 positions—10 percent of its staff—at the toymaker’s headquarters.

Gores specializes in acquiring and managing technology companies. “We look forward to providing the leadership and resources required to create and sustain a dynamic … enterprise,” company chairman Alec Gores said in a prepared statement.

Futurekids taps new president, CEO

Futurekids Inc., a provider of technology education solutions to K-12 schools worldwide, has announced the appointment of Alex M. Kaplan as its new president and chief executive officer.

Kaplan comes to Futurekids with a broad background in the use of technology in K-12 education and a successful record of building education lines of businesses. Prior to his appointment, Kaplan held executive positions with IBM, where he ran the company’s United States consulting division and helped create IBM’s strategies for public education.

In his new role, Kaplan will seek to broaden Futurekids’ School Technology Solutions product line to assist schools with all facets of effective technology use in the classroom. School Technology Solutions currently include technology professional development, assessment, curriculum, and consulting services.