Houghton Mifflin Harcourt seeks to reassure schools amid bankruptcy filing

HMH insists its restructuring plan will strengthen the company financially.

Education publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is seeking to reassure schools that it’s business as usual after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy May 28 to wipe out $3.1 billion in debt.

HMH, which publishes software and textbooks used by some 57 million students throughout all 50 U.S. states and 120 countries, said it has reached an agreement with more than 70 percent of its lenders and bondholders on the terms of a financial restructuring plan to convert the company’s outstanding debt into equity. More than 20 HMH affiliates, including Broderbund LLC and Classroom Connect Inc., also entered bankruptcy.

HMH said its plan would eliminate the company’s debt and reduce current annual cash interest costs by approximately $250 million, providing the company with “greater liquidity and financial flexibility as it pursues growth opportunities.”

By filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, instead of Chapter 7, which usually implies a company’s immediate exit, it appears that HMH intends to stay in business. While the company is in the bankruptcy process, it can’t be sued by creditors.

HMH insists its restructuring plan will strengthen the company financially.

“This is good news for our company,” said Linda Zecher, president and CEO of HMH, in a video that can be found here. “Our company has enough positive cash flow to continue normal operations. There will be no disruptions.”

On a question-and-answer webpage about the restructuring, HMH assures its stakeholders that the company has “no plans for layoffs or closings as a result of this process” and that it doesn’t “expect any changes in our business relationships with our authors, artists, or customers, other than the opportunity to grow our relationship further. Your contacts at HMH will remain the same, and we will continue to deliver on our commitments as usual.”

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, HMH had roughly $1.29 billion in sales last year, and the company says it plans to borrow as much as $500 million through Citigroup Inc. to complete the bankruptcy process.

Moody’s Investors Service earlier this month cut HMH’s corporate credit grade to the second-lowest rating, reserved for borrowers that “offer very poor financial security.” In March, Moody’s said the company’s capital structure was “unsustainable without a significant rebound in earnings.”

At a time when many publishers are struggling to make the transition from a mostly print-based to a digital market, HMH spokeswoman Bianca Olson said the shift from print to digital played no role in the company’s financial situation. Instead, she attributed HMH’s debt to “multiple acquisitions, coupled with a slower-than-expected economic recovery.”


$1K for innovative STEM or literacy curriculum

A school or organization has the opportunity to receive a $1,000 grant to create new and innovative ways to use the tenets of “From Failure to Promise: An Uncommon Path to Professoriate,” in their curriculum to motivate, energize, and catapult K-12 students/youth to reach their full promise in literacy, math, science, or technology.


Up to $500 for drama programs

Because Pioneer Drama Service believes so strongly in the power of theatre to make a difference in a student’s life, the organization is awarding a total of $5,000 of grants in the form of Pioneer Drama Service Credit. Qualifying middle and high schools may apply for a grant consisting of a credit in the amount of $100 To $500. This grant is intended to strengthen or create a sustainable drama experience for students in a school and must be used to stage at least one theatrical production during the 2012-13 school year.


Math equipment, software for educators

The Mission of Math Machines is to improve the quality of mathematical education, enhance the transfer of mathematical thinking into other classes, and increase students’ ability to apply rigorous mathematics outside the classroom. The primary tool for carrying out this mission is “Math Machines”—simple devices which give an immediate, physical, dynamic expression to “abstract” mathematical equations.


District proposal to track students with radio frequency identification system sparks controversy

If a high schooler in San Antonio skips school for a burger at Bob’s Big Boy, Big Brother just may be watching, the Huffington Post reports. The city’s Northside Independent School District is making waves with its plan to track students using Radio Frequency Identification System tags, reports Daily Tech. In total, over 6,200 students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School could be tracked through ID cards that they carry to enhance safety, school officials say. The gambit could also bring in much-needed revenue since higher attendance figures will result in more state funding totaling $1.7 million. Some parents in the district expressed privacy concerns over the proposal…

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Make kids ‘bullyproof’ by teaching social and emotional skills

Teaching kids to become “bullyproof” is all the rage. Books, videos and websites promise to show parents how to protect their kids from being bullied; school districts are buying curricula with names like “Bully-Proofing Your School,” a well-regarded program used in thousands of classrooms. Even martial arts programs are getting into the act: “Bullyproofing the world, one child at a time,” is the motto for a jujitsu program called Gracie Bullyproof, the Associated Press reports. But can you really make a child invulnerable to getting picked on? And even if you could, should the burden really be on potential victims to learn these skills, rather than on punishing or reforming the bullies? Parents and educators say when bullyproofing programs are done right, kids can be taught the social and emotional skills they need to avoid becoming victims. But bullyproofing is not just about getting bullies to move on to a different target. It’s also about creating a culture of kindness, beginning in preschool, and encouraging kids to develop strong friendships that can prevent the social isolation sometimes caused by extreme bullying…

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Son of mogul receives full ride to UCLA despite dad’s fortune

The debate over America’s love-hate relationship with higher education has increased a notch with news that an expensive full-ride scholarship to UCLA has been awarded to a teenager who hardly needs the cash: Justin Combs, Calvin Wolf for Yahoo! News reports. Combs is the son of hip-hop mogul Sean Combs (Diddy, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, etc.), and received a $54,000 per annum football scholarship, reported the day after his high school graduation on May 24 by Britain’s Daily Mail. The editorial staff of The Week are all over the debate, with proponents and critics of wealthy kids receiving merit scholarships arguing over various issues, including whether or not the funds come from taxpayer sources or private donors.  While Justin Combs certainly put in lots of hard work to land his scholarship and may well be deserving of it, his lack of financial need does highlight an important issue that has been gnawing at the financial efficiency of higher education: Should rich kids get scholarships at all and instead follow the mantra success is its own reward? Basically, is it right to reward poor, working-class and lower-middle-class teens for their efforts while expecting their wealthier peers to labor simply on the merits?

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Opinion: Shame on teachers who mock students

When Christina Valdez’s daughter came home from school with an award certificate for presenting the most homework excuses, Desert Springs Academy tried to pass off the teacher’s in-class announcement of the child’s “award” as joking, she told KGUN TV. Valdez quite rightfully was not amused, says Carol Bengle Gilbert for Yahoo! News. Jokes at the expense of 8-year-olds aren’t funny to mature adults and are developmentally detrimental to kids. The dual message the teacher, Ms. Plowman, delivered was powerful: to Valdez’s daughter, the message was be fearful of mistakes; to the class, Plowman endorsed making fun of others for their perceived deficiencies. This is no message for teacher and role model to deliver. Mocking a child- and encouraging other children to join in- is wrong and harmful. Slapping the label “humor” on it doesn’t change that. The immaturity and ignorance inherent in Plowman’s creation and presentation of a humiliating award to a captive and defenseless 8-year-old unfortunately is shared by too many teachers…

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What parents say testing is doing to their kids

The politicians who believe in using tests to judge schools and teachers will tell you that their efforts are designed to help our nation’s children. How odd it is, then, that they never ask parents what they think, says Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York, for the Washington Post. While testing expands like a balloon in the lives or our youngest students, there is no curiosity about what cannot be recorded on the scantron sheet. In order to find out what was on our parents’ minds, a group of New York principals created a short survey to give parents and teachers an opportunity to share their opinions. Over the course of two weeks, we were astounded by the results. Over 8,000 parents across New York State responded to our online survey regarding their children’s experiences with the recent New York State 3-8 Assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics. Over 6,000 teachers of students in Grades 3-8 weighed in on our teacher survey, as well. Although these surveys were informal, it would be a mistake to ignore what we learned…

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The truth about flipped learning

Ultimately, flipped learning is not about flipping the “when and where” instruction is delivered; it’s about flipping the attention away from the teacher and toward the learner.

A flipped classroom is all about watching videos at home and then doing worksheets in class, right? Wrong!

Consider carefully the assumptions and sources behind this oversimplified description. Is this the definition promoted by practitioners of flipped classrooms, or sound bites gleaned from short news articles? Would a professional educator more likely rely entirely upon video to teach students, or leverage video, when appropriate, and incorporate other educational tools as needed for successful student learning?

Many assumptions and misconceptions around the flipped class concept are circulating in educational and popular media. This article will address, and hopefully put to rest, some of the confusion and draw a conclusion on why flipped learning is a sound educational technique.

Assumption: Videos have to be assigned as homework.

Although video is often used by teachers who flip their class, it is not a prerequisite, and by no means must a video be assigned as homework each night. As with everything else, the use of a particular learning tool (teacher-made videos, hands-on experiments, online simulations, supplementary text, or current news articles) needs to be carefully evaluated and implemented by the teacher to accomplish the learning objective.

Resulting misconception: Videos are just recorded lectures.

Yes, in a flipped class a short video (usually 8 to 12 minutes in length) may be a recorded lecture, but educators are using video as a medium to pose questions, generate conversations, provide instructions for projects or experiments, assist with remediation, create lessons that can be used during a student’s absence, give example problems and solutions, and clarify misconceptions. Teachers are also encouraging students to create videos to foster greater peer-to-peer learning practices.

For more news about flipped learning, see:

Engaging Students with Flipped Learning

Resulting misconception: Homework is bad; therefore a flipped class is bad.

Flipped class practitioners create a learning environment in which student work can be completed in class. This requires a change in the way a class (or school) is structured. Flipped classrooms may look more like “learning centers” where students are working on different tasks at the same time. Our classrooms are quite chaotic: small groups gather at the corner tables, a one-on-one conversation up front, experiments at the stations, and yet others writing in their research journals.  On a larger scale, an entire school could be restructured to reflect the value that unstructured and “unprogrammed” time has on student learning and well being. Providing students with time during class to complete their school work also reflects a respect for students’ time and life outside of school. Because the class time is no longer the teacher’s to control, time in school is now focused on student progress rather than teacher-determined timelines.

Resulting misconception: Students must have internet access at home.

If a teacher chooses to assign a short video as homework, equitable access to the video must be ensured. For those students who do not have access at home, teachers are giving flash drives to students who have computers at home, but no internet access; burning DVDs for students with no computers, but DVD players; and providing additional access to computers either in class or before, during, or after the school day. Equity is a very important (and a legal) consideration, but creating equitable access to instructional tools is not an insurmountable hurdle. The issue surround equity can be solved with a little creativity and pooling of resources.