$250K for unique history education programs for youth

History organizations can apply for grants to help fund unique, hands-on student projects created to help students learn about important aspects of their local history and to actively engage them in the preservation of significant and potentially endangered pieces of their local heritage.


$85,000 for projects promoting environmental awareness

The 2006 SeaWorld/Busch Gardens/Fujifilm Environmental Excellence Awards program honors the outstanding efforts of students and teachers who work at the grassroots level to protect and preserve the environment. Previous winning projects have included wetlands protection, marine biology education, and prairie restoration.


Educators rally in aftermath of Katrina. How you can help!

Educators are people who care about people, particularly young people, and it was absolutely heart-wrenching for all of us to watch the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina unfold. The eSchool News editorial team also recognizes how difficult it is to explain what is happening to students in other parts of the country who might have friends or relatives affected by the tragedy. We have prepared this list of resources eSchool News Online readers can use to help hurricane victims and assist those now talking about the hurricane in their classrooms.


Lower prices could give tablet PCs a boost

The New York Times reports on efforts by tablet PC manufacturers to grow the device’s 2 percent share of the notebook computer market. Although tablet PCs have not caught on as quickly as regular notebooks in the consumer market, they have seen considerable growth in both the education and health-care fields. Tablet PC sales could get a boost now that prices are becoming lower. (Note: This site requires registration.)


Blackboard, WebCT combining forces

The top two providers of learning management system (LMS) software and services for higher education, Blackboard Inc. and WebCT Inc., have announced an agreement to merge. The merger would leave the combined entity with more than 80 percent of the LMS market share in higher education, which includes the software platforms that drive online learning. The impending deal has a price tag reported to be approximately $180 million.

Blackboard says the transaction will combine two academic eLearning organizations into a single company with the client base, resources, and expertise to meet the rapidly evolving needs of educators around the world. But the deal also has the potential to squeeze out other LMS providers and reduce competition, some observers fear.

Both companies’ boards of directors have approved the merger. The combined firms will operate under the Blackboard brand. Blackboard President and CEO Michael Chasen will continue to serve in that capacity for the new entity.

The ultimate value of the deal will depend on WebCT’s cash balance at closing. Under terms of the agreement, Blackboard will acquire WebCT in a cash transaction for $180 million, which values the offer at approximately $154 million when considering WebCT’s Aug. 31 cash balance of $26 million.

According to Blackboard, more than 3,700 higher-education, K-12, corporate, government, and commercial academic institutions use solutions offered by the two organizations. A survey done by Market Data Retrieval (MDR), a provider of education market research, found that Blackboard and WebCT held the top two slots in the LMS market for U.S. colleges and universities in 2005. Blackboard held 51 percent of that market, while WebCT held 32 percent.

Another education market research firm, Eduventures Inc., estimates the 2005 eLearning platform market in higher education will reach $220.7 million, a growth rate of 17.9 percent. Eduventures also estimates the 2005 market for K-12 schools to be $136 million, with an expected annual growth rate of 5 percent over the next two years.

“The two companies combined create a powerhouse for the learning management system market, [leaving] a pack of smaller players–and open-source solutions–to jockey for position,” said Catherine Burdt, lead postsecondary analyst at Eduventures.

“This is a dominant market position in higher education … so their real opportunity will be in leveraging digital content and add-on services, as well as strengthening positions in K-12 and international markets,” Burdt said.

Another analyst, John G. Flores of the United States Distance Learning Association, agreed the merger would change the landscape of the eLearning market.

“WebCT and Blackboard both hold dominant positions in the LMS sector of the K-12 and postsecondary education markets. Combining the two companies should bring new services, products, capabilities, and an economy of scale,” said Flores.

“If the merger doesn’t accomplish these goals, other alternatives exist, and I’m sure new ones will be launched,” Flores continued. “The distance-learning industry is always in a dynamic state; hence, the merger should prove successful, if the needs of both WebCT and Blackboard customers are met.”

Tim Wiley, an Eduventures analyst for the K-12 market in the United States, said the numbers for Blackboard and WebCT in K-12 education are not as strong as those in higher education.

“Blackboard’s 2004 revenues from K-12 were $8.9 million, about 7 percent of the total LMS market,” Wiley said. “WebCT’s K-12 revenues are even less, about $2 million.”

But Wiley suggested that the merger of Blackboard and WebCT would lead to a larger K-12 market share for the new entity, because the larger company would have greater flexibility to accommodate the peculiarities of that market.

“Qualitatively, we’ve been saying all along that given the very fragmented nature of the K-12 market–based on geography, policy, customer size, and long sales cycles–consolidation in most market segments, and certainly LMS, is to be expected,” Wiley said.

Despite a more than 80-percent market share in higher education and analysts’ optimistic predictions, Blackboard CEO Chasen dismissed the idea that Blackboard is positioning itself to monopolize K-20 eLearning solutions.

“We’re far from having any sort of monopoly–we don’t have influence at that level. The [K-20] market is so big, and there are so many companies in this space, that there are a lot of competitors out there,” Chasen told an eSchool News reporter. “Certainly, we’re technically the largest [eLearning platform provider] for education [in the United States], but a relatively small piece of the overall market, which includes international education and corporate markets.”

He added: “One of the main reasons behind the acquisition is that WebCT has a great reputation for service and support. Through this merger, we can take some of WebCT’s best practices and really improve the level of service that we’re able to offer our clients.”

Blackboard says it plans to enhance and support both companies’ existing products, while also developing interfaces that will permit the existing product lines of both companies to interoperate with one another and with other applications. Over time, the company says, it will work to incorporate the features and characteristics of the two product lines into a single, standards-based product that incorporates scalable architecture, the use of web services, unparalleled ease of use, and flexible customization features.

“Given the alignment of our visions, technologies, and overall strategies, the combination of our two companies will advance the teaching and learning technology industry, benefiting customers worldwide,” said Carol Vallone, WebCT’s president and chief executive officer.

“The development, support, maintenance, and upgrade of each product line will continue into the foreseeable future,” Vallone said. “Over time–in the next generation of the product–we will bring the two products together. But that’s not going to happen for at least the next couple of years.”

Users of both Blackboard and WebCT are optimistic about what the merger will bring–though some are more cautious than others.

“I have had experience with both companies and view this merger as combining excellence with excellence to advance the eLearning industry,” said Jack Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts. “I also see this combination as a way to … open the door to new opportunities for collaboration among institutions using different eLearning platforms.”

The University of North Texas, which has the largest number of online courses in the state of Texas, has been a WebCT customer for some time. Philip Turner, the school’s vice provost for learning enhancement, said he hopes the merger will lead to a better product.

“Of course, I think we feel a little scared,” said Turner. “I think that any time you face change in a learning management system when it’s integrated throughout your university, there will be some trepidation. But when you put those two companies together, the possibilities are probably endless.”

LMS software “is absolutely a mission-critical piece of the University of North Texas,” Turner said. The LMS learning environment “is the total university [experience] for 3,000 students that are totally online, and we have 38,000 enrollments that are in classes that use that platform. They use it for discussion, posting syllabi, grade books, and what have you.”

If Blackboard and WebCT do it right, he concluded, the merger “has the potential for some wonderful things. It has the potential to be problematic if they do it wrong. … We’ll certainly be a strong voice in guiding this, we hope, since we’re such a major user.”

Blackboard announced on Oct. 13 it will host two town hall-style information sessions at the higher education conference EDUCAUSE 2005, in Orlando, Fla. The forums will establish an open dialogue between members of the academic community and Blackboard and WebCT CEOs about the planned merger, company officials said.

The meetings are scheduled for the Orange County Convention Center, Room W204A, at 11:40 a.m. on Oct. 19 and at 2:20 p.m. on Oct. 20. Both sessions will be open to the public, the company said.

Blackboard went public last year. The initial public offering of its stock sold at $14 per share and reportedly raised $75 million. At market close on Oct. 13, shares of the stock–which trades on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol BBBB–were up, closing at $23.71. WebCT is a privately held company.


Blackboard Inc.

WebCT Inc.

Eduventures Inc.

Market Data Retrieval

United States Distance Learning Association

University of Massachusetts

University of North Texas



Former Ed Sec. Bennett resigns from K12 Inc.

William J. Bennett, former Education Secretary under President Reagan, has stepped down as chairman of virtual schooling provider K12 Inc. amid heavy criticism of remarks he made on his daily radio show last month.

Bennett’s comments on his show, “Morning in America,” came in response to a caller’s question regarding a recent book that suggested an increase in the abortion rate has helped reduce the crime rate.

Bennett said: “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.”

Bennett, who is an abortion opponent, went on to say that such abortions would be “an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.”

In response to a backlash from many K12 customers, including Philadelphia schools chief Paul Vallas, Bennett resigned from the company’s board on Oct. 3.

“Given the controversy surrounding the remarks I made on my radio show, I am stepping down from my positions at K12, so that neither the mission of the company, nor its children, are affected, distracted, or harmed in any way,” Bennett said in a written statement. He has said all along that his comments were taken out of context by the news media and his critics.

Bennett co-founded the McLean, Va.-based K12 in 1999. The company runs virtual charter schools in at least eight states and the District of Columbia, and it provides curriculum services to more than 70,000 students in a variety of learning environments, including traditional public school classrooms, virtual schools, and home schools, according to its web site.

K12 Inc. said it has no relationship with, or involvement in, Bennett’s radio program. The opinions expressed by Bennett on his show are his alone, it said.


K12 Inc.


$500K to promote healthy eating, physical activity

The General Mills Champions Youth Nutrition and Fitness grant program encourages communities in the United States to improve the eating and physical activity patterns of young people ages 2-20. Grants will be awarded to nonprofit organizations and agencies working with communities that demonstrate the greatest need and likelihood of sustainable impact on young people’s nutrition and activity levels through innovative programs.


$35,500 for creative uses of digital cameras, software

Educators whose curriculum ideas illustrate effective and creative use of digital cameras and software resources are invited to apply. Proposals should involve the teacher’s entire class via a group project or should allow each student to have the opportunity to build their own project.