Frank Catalano

I’m the kind of guy who worries when something gets too popular.

I looked askance at novels (especially science fiction) that made it to mainstream bestseller lists when written by otherwise mediocre authors. I avoided buying any footwear or polo shirt that was named for, or sported images of, long-jawed fast-crawling reptiles. When anything rapidly accelerated in popularity with no clear tie to quality, I wondered how long it would take before that bandwagon crashed.

I’m starting to ponder the same about technology in education. Because, as I sat on a panel judging ten enthusiastic teams at last weekend’s nicely structured Startup Weekend Seattle EDU, I couldn’t help but think that digital learning may be getting too popular among some entrepreneurs and investors. Because said popularity may be increasingly for the wrong reasons, and have little to do with actually improving education.

There are early warning signs that the hype could be outpacing the reality, reminiscent of the mindless headlong rush to the Pets.coms of a dozen years ago:

Investment. Once described as a “get rich slow” business, K-12 and other education segments are now being chased by a mob of investment capitalists. At this month’s busy EdNET education industry conference, Managing Director Susan Wolford of BMO Capital Markets said the potential for technology to customize learning for students “makes enormous sense” to investors interested in education. But she added it’s important for entrepreneurs to create “smart products” rather than jury rig something to take advantage of whatever the current funding or fads support, cautioning that too much money is chasing ideas “that should have been left to die.”

Digital instructional content company Boundless summed up the last decade of venture investment in edtech in an infographic. It concludes that “record numbers of companies are receiving venture funding,” with VC investments in education this year on pace to be five times higher than in 2002. The news site EdSurge added, “In 2011, we passed the last peak of edtech investment, which occurred during the memorable bubble of 1999.”

Attention. Not only have mainstream tech blogs like Mashable and TechCrunch upped their frequently breathless coverage, it seems almost every week a new site surfaces specializing in covering tech in schools, colleges or for consumer and adult education. More recent entrants include WiredAcademic, Technapex and Edudemic joining print-spawned old-timers like THE Journal and Education Week and more established blogs such as EdSurge, Hack Education and MindShift.

Even the Consumer Electronics Association has piled on, this month naming technology in education one of five “prominent technology trends expected to influence the consumer electronics (CE) industry in the years ahead.” The CEA report attaches digital learning to the same hand as 3D printing, next-generation TVs and displays, the evolution of audio, and mobile in Africa.

Startup activity. Startup Weekend EDU, a Startup Weekend “vertical” only a year old, is both a thoughtful driver and a reflection of edtech’s growing popularity and potential influence among entrepreneurs. Since an early EDU event was organized in Seattle a year ago, an estimated 17 EDU Weekends have occurred — and more are on tap.

It’s not the only entrepreneurial launch pad: SXSW has an education conference, SXSWedu, with a LAUNCHedu component first held in March and which will repeat next year. The Software and Information Industry Association has its long-standing Innovation Incubator at its twice-annual education conferences. And there are longer-term, investor-backed incubator projects on both coasts.

Politics. Perhaps unique to education, its adoption of technology is being promoted by those with a political agenda — or perceived to have one. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education has digital learning as a core part of its “reform agenda,” and edtech frequently is mentioned in the same breath as education reform, as though one can’t occur without the other. True or not (and it’s a topic I’ll explore as moderator of a Seattle MIT Enterprise Forum on edtech in November), adding politics to the mix can mask, or make divisive, technology’s application and effectiveness in classrooms.

Individually, none of these developments is worrisome; indeed, they’re pretty cool after I and others in the field have suffered years of digital education being viewed as an ugly stepchild to sexier consumer and business tech. Even combined, these moves may be no more than a potential cautionary tale of a balance that never will tip from good to bad. After all, a lot of excitement generates a lot of activity.

So is this a case of an elitist sniffing and claiming a favorite restaurant has gotten too popular now that everyone comes to it?

No. It’s more a concern that while there is a burning unmet need and opportunity to apply technology intelligently to teaching and learning, too much overhyped edtech developed for reasons having little to do with enhancing education can collapse into a black hole of failure. And that’s a gravity well that could suck across its event horizon not just bad products, greedy investors and clueless entrepreneurs, but also the good of each group — with teachers and students dragged into the maelstrom.

Because in education technology, the stakes are much higher than another me-too e-commerce play going under. It’s how the kids of entrepreneurs and everyone else will be educated for decades to come. Not finding another place to buy cat litter.

Frank Catalano is a consultant, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies whose GeekWire columns take a practical nerd’s approach to tech. He tweets @FrankCatalano and consults as Intrinsic Strategy. For very full disclosure, he’s on the Education Division Board of the Software and Information Industry Association, on the Advisory Board of the 2013 SXSWedu conference, a speaker at the EdNET conference, a contributor to both MindShift and EdSurge, an occasional contributor to WiredAcademic, and a coach and judge for Startup Weekend Seattle EDU. At least, he was when this column appeared.

Flickr Photo by Justin D. Miller.

Comments

  • gilchristh

    Well written piece, Frank. I agree that we should be very cautious of the popularity edtech is currently enjoying, but I want to make one counterpoint. As a founder of one of the edtech incubators you acknowledged (actually, Socratic Labs is an accelerator, but that’s little more than a semantic point) and a member of an as-yet unofficial emerging network of really interesting programs designed to foster education entrepreneurship, I think there is great promise in some of the models we’re developing.

    One of the big goals of Socratic Labs is to provide a forum in which investors new to education can get, well, educated on what a healthy edtech company should do and what does–and doesn’t–work in business models that involve schools or learners. We’re building educators and schools into our model. We’re putting very small amounts of capital into companies alongside the bigger benefits of mentorship and partnerships with schools so we can be sure we’re actually solving problems in schools rather than just building cool toys and slapping an “edtech” label on something that doesn’t move the needle in education outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, we’re being very, very picky about who *our* investors are to prevent unrealistic/unhealthy pressure on our cohort companies to behave like more traditional tech startups.

    I’m certainly not alone, either: Jessie Arora is building something really cool in TeacherSquare in Silicon Valley, 4.0 Schools is doing really great work in New Orleans, Alex Hernandez in Colorado and Brian Greenberg in SV are supporting great work with blended learning and innovative school models, Shawn Rubin in Providence…plus we have folks like Matt Greenfield and Rick Segal of Rethink Education, Jen Carolan at New School Venture Fund, and Tom Vander Ark and Rob Hutter at Learn Capital who are focused exclusively on education, genuinely want to improve education, and bring great perspective to their work.

    I think it’s far healthier for a market that is desperately in need of more capital to have an upswelling of programs like ours and like Imagine K12 to put a little bit of investment capital into early stagers, foster genuine collaboration between entrepreneurs and educators, and offer a proving ground for emerging ed entrepreneurs.

    There may be a bubble coming in edtech, but as these programs emerge and offer a bit better perspective on edtech, there should be little reason for a smart investor to make catastrophically bad investments and distort the market. Of course some still will, but that’s bound to happen in any investment vertical. Call me quixotic, but I’m really optimistic.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      I’m also optimistic, but it’s tinged with caution. I completely agree that historically edtech has been underfunded, overlooked and generally seen as an afterthought by those who have pursued more “attractive” (read: higher potential for growth) markets. In the past, forward-thinking schools have often had to pick among tech products and services lacking in elegant or intuitive UIs, portable data, or even the ability to run on the hardware they had. That’s all changing. So I’m excited by the attention. If the attention also serves the ultimate education objection.

      I also think accelerators and incubators serve an important purpose, both to educate early stage companies and give them needed stability to pursue (and perhaps pivot as they learn how to successfully enter) a market. The thoughtful approach you describe seems to be a good one, and a reason to be positive.

      • gilchristh

        Keep your fingers crossed for us–for all of us! And keep writing good thought-provoking pieces I can share with our cohort companies to think about :)

  • http://blog.CascadeSoft.net @CascadeRam

    great column, though I have one suggestion for Frank at the end of my comments

    imo the pets.com model (mentioned in the column) wasn’t an aberration, it is how a lot of investors and many entrepreneurs think.
    For some people, it is a pure ‘pump and dump’ strategy. For some others, it is the ‘greater fool’ theory. Some others really believe that there is a lot of money in the space. To be clear, that doesn’t represent the entire spectrum. I’m sure some investors and entrepreneurs invest in education because they really believe in it. However, I’m not surprised that a significant number of investors and entrepreneurs are in it for (what the column describes as) “the wrong reasons”

    Ultimately, the tech media (including GeekWire) and many in the startup community judge a startup’s “success” by its “exit” or its “growth” (regardless of whether the growth is sustainable or not). That is where all the hype is.
    I even see congratulatory emails and some hype around “firesale” exits and acqui-hires

    I don’t find this surprising and my only suggestion to Frank is that he also consider the role played by the tech media in promoting hype around “exits” (and the tech media’s sins of omission in not analyzing whether the growth is sustainable and whether a “sold” company is likely to succeed as a new unit in the acquiring company)

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Safe to say I’m on the record as not being a fan of exits that haven’t occurred as a result of building products people actually want, or creating a business model that is sustainable or actually works. But I also know that there’s a hype-fueled part of the tech media (dating back to the dot-com bust and before) that doesn’t concur, and still exists today. Some practitioners would fall under my category of “Attention.”

      To clarify, it wasn’t just Pets.com a dozen years. It was dozens or hundreds of companies that focused on get-big-quick or grab-eyeballs-fast, without any careful thought to creating a profitable, value-imbued underlying business. That’s why there was a dot-com bust which seems to be ignored by a lot of companies in today, not only in edtech but a variety of markets. I just would prefer not to see technology in education follow the same path.

  • http://twitter.com/prsmith2009 Paul Smith

    Back in February I attended a Startup Weekend EDU event as a coach. At that time, I was nearly 12 years in with Pearson (PowerSchool) and can remember thinking to myself that most of the ideas pitched were going to face some significant adoption and implementation issues. I spent some time getting to know the other coaches, many of whom were in the midst of spinning up their own edtech startups and I had the same concern for their nascent product ideas. But I did admire their spirit… Whether it was audacity or blissful ignorance of the obstacles they would face, it was clear they were all on a mission to transform education.

    So, I left the hackathon feeling somewhat skeptical about the new edtech movement, but when I returned to my cube at Pearson, I immediately felt very insecure (old?) and wondered if my “wisdom” might actually be prejudice.

    I spent the next several months following the new edtech startup movement closely, watching and learning. What I came to realize is that many of my beliefs on the business of doing business in edtech were dated and did not account for the many new technologies and innovations that have effectively turned the tables. Most notably, the direct-to-consumer opportunity.

    When Edmodo hit 8-million registered users and landed the #1 spot in the iTunes App Store back in August, I warned my Pearson brethren that by back-to-school 2013, they would surpass the PowerSchool footprint of 10.5 million students. Today, they have 13.3 million and remain in the top 5 in iTunes.

    Another great example is Class Dojo. When I met Liam at SWedu, he and Sam were just getting started. Six months later they were up to 3.5 million registered students and teachers, and landed a $1.6 million seed round.

    Could successful companies like these be at the heart of an edtech bubble? Perhaps, but before we prognosticate too much, take a moment to search Twitter and see what end-users are saying. Unlike past bubbles with over-hyped products, the products that are getting funded today have passionate users leading the charge.

    Sure, some bad ideas are getting funded, but I’d be willing to bet that the success/failure ratio in the last three years has been much favorable to edtech startups than their cousins in mobile apps or social.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Paul, I understand what you’re saying about developing an updated perspective (and about the appeal of the direct-to-teacher or direct-to-parent education models). But I personally would be careful not to confuse “funding” with “revenue” in defining success.

      I saw some of that at last weekend’s Startup Weekend Seattle EDU, when at least one wannabe’s “business model” pitch was how they’d raise money from investors – not how they’d actually build an ongoing business. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the companies you cite still haven’t crossed that line. I hope they do. Because I wonder what some of those currently enthusiastic users will say should it turn out the startups they’ve started to rely on fail – and take their educator and student data with them. It has happened, and isn’t pretty.

      • http://twitter.com/prsmith2009 Paul Smith

        You’re right… these companies are going to need to find a way to keep the lights on. That revenue will either come from districts (long, arduous sales cycle), teachers (typically unwilling to part with $$ for their job) or parents who so far, have demonstrated that while their willing to open their wallets for education apps, they don’t want to pay for something they think should be provided by the school.

  • http://twitter.com/sandman_va Dave Sandrowitz

    Part of the issue here is simply that edtech is a hot space, filled with lots of nonsensical talk about reinventing education and innovation. It is mostly hot air, but there is enough of it that LPs in VC funds are expecting that their GPs have money in edtech startups. Sure, the GPs want to find good ones, but the pressure is great enough that money is getting spread around to simply buy the window dressing for middling and poor performing funds. Not exactly the kind of incentives you’d want if the goal is actually foster educational improvement and efficiency via technology.

  • jim lewis

    As someone that has a foot in the education and technology camps I’d like to comment. At Edvation we sell digital curriculum and professional development successfully to schools. As Paul points out, its hard. The funds are sparse. We can talk about education reform and even the use of technology, but we need to fund the education system to buy the curriculum and the technologies. I was visiting a “iPad” school last week. Much of their funding for iPads and applications comes from the school’s booster club. If we want a more vibrant education system, we need to fund it. In my day job working with startups I have the image in my head of a bunch of successful tech men and women standing around the education system peering into the fishbowl wanting to help and pay back the system that enabled them to get a good paying job. In the last week I have looked at three tech startups in the education space, none of which have a single educator on staff. Please, if you want to start a tech education company, go hug an educator, maybe a couple, drag them into the office, hire them, and have them help.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Agreed about getting educators directly involved. I’ll suggest it has to be educators who won’t feel totally constrained by how schools are currently run, and will have an understanding of how flexible and workable in the near term the current system is when applying what entrepreneurs develop with an eye toward transformative approaches later on..

      That’s why I give props to Lindsey Own (a teacher and tech evangelist) and the others who organized last weekend’s Startup Weekend Seattle EDU.A year ago, at the first Startup Weekend EDU in Seattle, only two or three teachers took part. This year, it was 18 – or six times last year’s number – meaning that every team could have a teacher or two on it, if it wanted to. There was even a team made up fully of eighth grade students (plus one adult).

    • TWells252

      You must have educators directly involved – Agree! Otherwise, even if you (somehow miraculously) create an excellent product that could greatly improve student achievement, it will be viewed with skepticism by teachers and not adopted with fidelity. Us teachers are skeptical of (and frankly resistant to) outsiders trying to sell us on the latest innovation that will “help our students learn more”. But if there is a teacher directly involved, then it becomes easier to earn that “Teacher Stamp of Approval” and become truly successful.

  • http://www.edudemic.com Edudemic

    Thanks for the mention! I don’t normally add links in comments but wanted to let you know that I too feel the edtech ‘bubble’ may burst some point soon. Wrote about it last night during what is likely the same thought process you had. Great minds and all that… http://edudemic.com/2012/10/edtech-ipad-mini/

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Your piece on the iPad Mini announcement illustrates a good point: Apple packaged its news in a now-trendy “education” wrapper. This, even though the Mini is too expensive for most schools for its capabilities, and it’s too small to be used for required Common Core high-stakes tests coming out in 2014. (Audrey Watters has a critique at HackEducation.com http://hackeducation.com/2012/10/24/omg-ipad-mini-education-revolution/.) Edtech is indeed the popular new guest at the party.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lynda.ritchie.52 Lynda Ritchie

    Oops – wife and I share stuff. – Bill Ritchie (not Lynda)

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.ritchie.355 Bill Ritchie

    Sorry folks – clearly it was I who wrote a comment, not my wife, Lynda! If anyone can straighten this out, please do. Meanwhile, my face is red. – BR

  • DinSquared

    Bubble or not, hype or not, as Frank correctly points out, there’s a real risk that young companies that provide truly helpful tools for teachers go belly up, be it during the course of this feeding frenzy or after it ends. As we’ve seen from both the dot com and real estate scarring bubbles – calling it a bubble doesn’t stop the momentum. Looking past the current state of affairs in our industry, what can profitable companies and caring investors do to help ensure that those that deserve to thrive, thrive? Incubators/accelerators like Heather’s have a role to play; we at BrainPOP launched an ecosystem specifically for the smaller players in the edu games space. But what else can be done?

  • Ben Barton

    I would echo many of the comments below. As an edtech startup in the UK, zondle has had to bootstrap as investment tends to be harder to find here. This has meant we need to innovate not only with our product but also our marketing (teachmeets and twitter being the main tools we use).
    The comments that struck we most was about whether many of the more recent startups “… have little to do with improving education.” We see many startups at events like TechHeads, BETT and LEGup that simply haven’t been to a classroom and though they have an idea that they believe will help education there is little evidence that teachers and students will actually use it. Our experience is that if you tick the ‘improve education’ box you will also find users wiling to refer other teachers and schools.
    Funds are particularly tight in UK schools but we are increasingly finding that parents are helping to fund technology developments in schools and also supporting their children at home.

    The bottom line with edtech is that it is a ‘get rich slow’ type of business and I suspect that those who choose a different path will ultimately fail to convince teachers that their product/service is worth using, paying for and sharing with others.

  • http://twitter.com/selling2schools Glen McCandless

    Frank’s bubble burst caution is wise. The surge in investment and hype is largely product focused, and as others here point out, reminds some of us of the dot.com boom. Cool new edu innovations are wonderful. Always have been. But our education industry is a monolith, an enormous, sprawling enterprise built out over the last century, with trillions of dollars worth of buildings, staff and infrastructure. There is a giant gap between the edtech start ups and the go-to-market requirements. I’ve yet to see a sales and marketing plan that bridges that gap and reflects the reality of our current system which isn’t going away any time soon.

  • http://twitter.com/Hear_K12 Kaara Kallen

    It’s so, so unfortunate that the conversation between educators and reform advocates has soured and stalled. You do a great job of articulating the reason educators have grown leery of ed-tech reform initiatives. Thank you.

  • Joseph Clark

    School boards (in general) are not in the technological mainstream. They are typically struggling to keep up with the innovations of yesteryear. Innovation in K-12 education is driven by two entities: The students (via the desperation to decrease the digital divide between students and teachers) and the technology firms who introduce school boards to the latest and greatest digital tools. This is not a criticism. It is a harsh reality. The majority of K-12 school boards are just now demonstrating that they realize the importance of bridging information technology and programs. For this reason, school boards do not usually make snap decisions on the latest tech craze. They are usually procuring and implementing years after a technology has proven itself in other verticals or after someone else has taste-tested the dog food. It is very difficult to convince an ultra conservative entity to go from being a laggard to an innovator or early adopter en masse. Education technology start ups are best to either partner with a major education publisher to gain credibility, or convince consulting firms who speacilize in the K-12 vertical that they have solutions that the consultant’s trusting client is badly in need of.

  • TWells252

    The 2nd to last paragraph is perfect – I’ve been trying to express that feeling and couldn’t do so as eloquently. Great article; I’ve already shared with many educators!

  • Ann Gray

    “There are early warning signs that the hype could be outpacing the reality.”

    Nope. Not yet. You underestimate the politics piece–and the connection to the big businesses and power players that have carefully put all of the pieces in place. (You don’t think Gates, Murdoch, et al–the controllers–would really let that happen, do you?) Here is the short list:

    – The media have convinced everyone that our educational system is “broken.”
    – They, and the politicians starting with the President on down (“We need to ‘win’ the future”), have also created the idea that in order to “compete in the global marketplace,” our students need “21st century skills” (yada, yada, yada) –translation: they need technology in the classroom.
    – Our Secretary of Education, (the basketball star), has proclaimed that all schools need to stop using printed textbooks and go digital within the next few years.
    – He also got $5 Billion from Congress (to do with as he liked) which he used to bribe states into signing onto the Common Bore (thereby creating ONE large *national* market for educational products where we used to have 50 different ones).
    – In 2014 students will start to be tested ON COMPUTERS for large-scale standardized tests (so districts that don’t have a lot of computers to test a lot of kids at the same time will need to quickly buy a bunch. I think iPads will be supported for the tests, too). With those (mandatory) computer stations, districts will be open to buying other things to add to those systems–like remediation materials.
    – States have predicted that students will do badly on the new tests, so a huge opportunity will be open in some areas/states (particularly where the Common Bore is a lot more difficult (“rigorous”) than what students have been putting up with for state testing and there are a number of companies gearing up for this inevitability.
    – Legislation (especially some written by ALEC) has also loosened the rules for online education.

    So, really, there are a lot of opportunities. This is a pretty big juggernaut; and classroom teachers have mostly been written out of the decisions, so you don’t have to worry about them getting in the way.

    “…in education technology, the stakes are much higher than another me-too e-commerce play going under. It’s how the kids of entrepreneurs and everyone else will be educated for decades to come.” They don’t care. The “kids of entrepreneurs” go to private schools which have different rules and use technology strictly to enhance students’ learning not to replace teachers…

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Pretty sure I don’t buy the conspiracy part, either in or outside of the context of a potential edtech bubble, and I’ve been following edtech for nearly two decades. There definitely are strong financial and political interests involved and their objectives are sometimes aligned. But efforts such as Common Core State Standards were initiated and led by states under the aegis of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, not corporations.

      As to the idyllic past? The former 50-state market was really a three big-state market of Florida, Texas and California, and whatever sold in those states would usually be purchased by the others. Competition was (and remains) fierce, with many choices, including materials created by districts and states themselves which were subsequently marketed to other states and districts.

      It can make for an emotionally compelling case to select certain facts that appear to line up and imply a grand conspiracy, as some have done. But the reality is more complex, and the various big players don’t always agree.

      Some uses of technology are useful and appropriate, like fine-grained adaptive supplemental instruction or web access for research. Others are misguided and implemented without a clear purpose, such as districts buying bright shiny iPads without any idea how they will be used for instruction or without providing teachers input into, and training on, their integration into the classroom.

      For what it’s worth, my son went to public school. And I volunteered in his classrooms. There is no substitute for a good teacher, or for parental involvement. And it’s the teachers who are now bringing new products into the classroom from startups. I haven’t written teachers off yet, nor should anyone assume they are not involved.

      • Ann Gray

        I appologize for mis-stating my meaning. I should have said that, **for better or worse,** the edtech bubble is not about to burst (yet). (Having a Master’s degree in Computer Science…), I am no technophobe, and I recently finished becoming certified to teach, so I have been observing and student-teaching in a variety of classrooms quite recently. Also, I have been researching education issues (including the use of technology in the classroom) for over a decade, and my own children are *still* in school. (When you say, “…my son **went** to public school,” if you haven’t been in a classroom in the past 2 or so years, you have no idea how much things have shifted recently.)

        That said, I completely agree with you that there are LOTS of uses of technology for the classroom which are useful and appropriate; and I completely support making sure *all* students have access to them. But there are also lots of districts that are laying off teachers, increasing class sizes dramatically and buying iPads and SmartBoards for all (and so far I have seen very few teachers use the SmartBoard, for example, for anythng remotely innovative that you couldn’t do with one of those (non-digital) overhead projectors). Anyway, we need some innovative software (since so much of it is terrible:
        http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edtechresearcher/2012/12/breaking_research_most_apps_bad.html)
        to work with the excellent hardware as well as sufficient professional development for staff to increase the actual usefulness of the technology (of which the “effectiveness,” for the record, is still unproven: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html?.)

        My snarky tone above has to do with the fact that most of the “reform” movement in education has come from various people outside of the classroom, and I stand by my assertion that, in general, classroom teachers have been left out of the discussion–not consulted or simply ignored (Here’s an example: when NY State decided that all districts needed to come up with an evaluation plan for teachers that would include a component worth 40% on student standardized test scores; 600 principals across the state signed a letter (www.newyorkprincipals.org/)
        saying that this was a bad plan, but the state IGNORED them. The signatures have grown to over 1500 principals and thousands of teachers, and parents; and the state hasn’t even acknowledged it.) and that big business interests are currently controlling most of the direction (and that can create opportunities–especially for the edtech sector–for better or worse.) Of course as an educator I want to be able to have products and materials *available* to choose from as I see fit for the maximum benefit of my students; what I object to is when choices are forced upon me by outsiders (for the benefit of their revenue stream…)

        For the record, it’s something of a myth that the Common Core initiative was “state led.” The CCSSO and the NGA are DC-based trade associations; most of the creative work was done by Achieve, Inc., a DC-based non-profit; and most of the funding came from private interests, in particular the Gates Foundation. It’s not a conspiracy “theory”–you can look it up. The Common Core, which was originally supposed to be a set of *standards* is inching its way toward becoming a national curriculum:
        http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/03/27/26newyork_ep.h32.html?tkn=WYSFx2RBLcldkZMi%2FXi7Ge0dsiRDc5SV2l%2Bg&cmp=ENL-CCO-NEWS2

        And as to operations that want to step in when massive remediation is indicated, you might want to take a look here:
        http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2012/08/as_assessments_change_and_scores_drop_business_opportunities_arise.html?r=1599464295

        And calls by the DoEd to go all digital: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2012/10/03/education-chief-wants-textbooks-to-go-digital/

        And the technology requirements called for when districts will *have to* test the students on computer (starting in 2014) have started to come out:
        http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/02/06/02bits-commoncore.h06.html?r=211963303

        For better or worse (and probably a mixed bag because, like you say, the education issue is very complicated), all of these factors create a lot of opportunities, soI don’t think we are close to seeing the bubble burst…yet

        • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

          We may disagree on whether Common Core was “state-led” at its inception. But I do agree some of Common Core’s promise seems to have been co-opted for other agendas. (Personally, I still like the concept that it would make it easier for students, should they move from one state or district to another, to all know roughly the same things at the same grade level.)

          The fact that its assessments are supposed to be on computer is potentially a plus, as it will finally get devices to the students for many other uses. If, of course, it’s done correctly. And that’s a big if.

          That said, I completely concur this is complicated and a lot of interests have piled on, some with what seems to be less-than-pure intent. I follow education closely, so am already familiar with the references you cite. And I do still visit classrooms, even though (as you correctly surmise) my son has graduated.

          I’ve always maintained that technology should be a tool in service to education, not a driver. I’m hoping we get past the cheerleading on one side and the fear on the other to make that a reality, and that any bubble does not pop due to unrealistic expectations.

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