In what industry analysts say is a “startling” move that confirms the company’s rededication to education, Apple Computer announced March 14 that it would acquire privately held PowerSchool Inc., a leading provider of web-based student information systems (SIS) for the K-12 market.

“Apple has a legacy of helping teachers teach and students learn. We are now expanding that mission to include helping schools run more effectively,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, in a company statement.

Like other web-based systems—such as Chancery Software’s K12Planet.com, NCS Pearson’s SchoolCONNECTxp, and Administrative Assistants Ltd.’s eSIS—PowerSchool’s eponymous software gives teachers and administrators the ability to manage student records via the internet and gives parents real-time access to their children’s grades and other information.

Voted the third-best SIS in a recent eSchool News Readers’ Choice Awards poll, PowerSchool reportedly is used by some 2,000 schools nationwide.

“By acquiring PowerSchool and welcoming its talented employees to Apple, we instantly become the leading provider of web-based student information systems nationwide,” said Jobs.

PowerSchool’s competitors were unavailable for comment at press time.

Though an Apple spokeswoman would not discuss the acquisition, a company press release suggests why Apple made the move: “Apple’s focus on administrative leadership is a major commitment. We recognize school leaders need access to reliable data in order to make informed decisions, which will lead to improved student performance. … Administrative leadership also means ensuring that all district stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, and administrators—have access to the tools and information necessary for their work.”

Some industry experts think the deal proves that Apple, once the undisputed leader in America’s schools, may be trying to regain its position atop the education market.

“The education segment is clearly very important for Apple, and it’s an area in which they are coming under pressure, particularly from Intel-based competitors,” said Charles Smulders, principal analyst the Gartner Group market research firm Dataquest. “They need to find ways to distinguish themselves.”

An industry expert who wished to remain anonymous put it another way: “It’s startling. This is far beyond the scope of what Apple’s ever done before, and I’ve always been very impressed with PowerSchool’s product.”

Apple has attempted to breathe new life into its education division recently, particularly with the rehiring of Cheryl Vedoe. A former vice president of Apple’s education division, Vedoe rejoined the company in November in the newly created position of vice president of Education Marketing and Solutions, reporting directly to Jobs.

In an interview with eSchool News, Vedoe said her position indicates a renewed dedication to Apple’s education division going forward. “Very simply, the fact that my position was created is an indication that Apple is serious about education,” she said.

Apple also announced two recent education hires that may ring a bell in the ed-tech community.

David Dwyer, formerly of Apple Education and Computer Curriculum Corp., recently was hired as Apple’s director of education technology.

Apple also hired David Byer, former executive director of the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, a high-profile bipartisan group charged with receiving testimony and reporting on the uses and effects of technology in K-12 schools. Byer was hired as a senior manager of education strategy relations.

Signs that Apple was losing its market share in education began to surface in 1999, when rival Dell Computer cited figures from Dataquest indicating it had surpassed Apple as the No. 1 supplier of computers to schools, despite the popularity of the iMac.

Apple will acquire PowerSchool for $62 million in stock. PowerSchool, located in Folsom, Calif., currently has 160 employees. Completion of the transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and the approval of shareholders.

Links:

Apple Computer
http://www.apple.com

PowerSchool Inc.
http://www.powerschool.com

Chancery Software
http://www.chancery.com

NCS Pearson
http://www.ncs.com

Administrative Assistants Ltd.
http://www.admassist.com