News Corp. jumps into ed-tech field

Analysts wonder if News Corp. hopes to harness the mobile assessment field.

News Corp., which recently hired outgoing New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, has reached a deal to buy educational technology firm Wireless Generation for $360 million in cash in what observers see as the first of many moves into the ed-tech market for Rupert Murdoch’s media giant.

News Corp., which owns the controversial Fox News cable network, is buying a 90-percent stake in Wireless Generation, while founder and CEO Larry Berger, Chief Operating Officer Josh Reibel, and Chief Product Officer Laurence Holt will split the remaining 10 percent and will continue to manage the company.

Privately held Wireless Generation, which is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., provides mobile and web software, data systems, and professional services that enable teachers to use data to assess student progress and deliver individualized instruction. It was launched in 2000 and counts more than 200,000 teachers and 3 million students across the country as users, News Corp. said.

“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” said Murdoch, News Corp.’s CEO, in a statement. “Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”

Wireless Generation also builds large-scale data systems that centralize student data, give educators and parents more visibility into the learning process, and foster professional communities of educators with social networking tools. The company is a key partner to New York City’s Department of Education on its Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS), as well as on the city’s School of One initiative.

News Corp. said in November that it was hiring Klein to help it find education startups to invest in, particularly those that use technology to improve instruction. Klein, who starts with News Corp. in January, will occupy a newly created position as executive vice president and office of the chairman, and he will report to Murdoch directly.

The move has led some education observers to wonder if other large enterprises will turn their eyes—and open their wallets—to the educational technology industry as well.

“It’s very interesting. And in a way, not surprising,” said Kathy Mickey, a senior education analyst with Simba Information. Mickey said companies in other industries have owned parts of educational technology firms, or entire ed-tech businesses, for quite some time, although it doesn’t happen very frequently.

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