Friday, August 14, 2015

Klein Fails Hard (Bye Bye, Amplify)

The news has spread rapidly-- Amplify, the education tech division of News Corp, headed by Joel Klein and funded by Rupert Murdoch, is headed directly down the tubes.

Klein is the poster boy for unqualified people in educational leadership roles, rising to the head of the nation's largest school system based on his extensive background as a lawyer. Since then, he has been one of the bright lights of reformsterdom. He has helped sell the idea that education is a threat to national security and argued about the power of education to overcome humble backgrounds by telling his own story (well, a story loosely based on his own life). Mercedes Schneider devoted a whole chapter to his exploits in Chronicle of Echoes, and even that is probably not enough space to  trace his reformy footprints, from bolstering baloney groups like National Council on Teacher Quality and Jeb Bush's FEE to jump-starting the career or other well-connected clowns with no education background.

Klein has since tried to make his case for his handling of New York City schools in a book Lessons of Hope. The book contains all the signature Klein features, including a casual relationship with the truth. Klein is great example of the modern management principle that you don't have to know the business of the company you're running-- you just have to be smart, audacious and leaderly.

After New York, Klein decided to combine what he didn't know about education with what he didn't know about technology and con Rupert Murdoch into launching an education tech company. Amplify was going to be a player in the world of touch-screen based education. It's popular field for many reasons, not the least of which is the revenue stream involved. Note that Amplify's product was going to involve $299 for the wi-fi enabled tablet and a $99 subscription for the content.

That subscription fee represents a growing trend in the tech world-- why sell customers a product once when you can use a subscription fee model to keep them paying for the product over and over, year after year. But there's a major problem with using this business model with schools:

Tech wizard: Look! Electronic copies of books that won't wear out and can be easily updated!

Schools: Awesome! We won't have to spend millions of dollars to replace our paper textbooks every ten years.

Tech wizard: No, you won't. However, you will have to give us millions of dollars in subscription fees every single year.

Schools: We are now much less excited.

But Amplify had other problems. Like laptops that tended to melt and fall apart.

By April of this year, Klein was talking about "unifying" Amplify and getting the giant mess of money-sucking suckitude into some sort of orderly form that would placate investors and corporate overlords.

It wasn't enough. This week the news was that Amplify was "winding down" production on their disastrous laptops and would stop seeking new customers (an effort operating out of the same offices as their Yeti Locator and Loch Ness Monster Training divisions). They will totally keep providing support for their existing customers, and I'm sure you can take that promise straight to the bank. Meanwhile, they will take a $371 write-down on the education division (a write-down happens when you decide that the used Yugo that you've been swearing is worth $50,000 is actually worth $1.50).

In other words, Klein can now claim a Value Added Measure of negative $371 million. In other words, Klein has shown he knows how to make $600 million-- start with a billion.

They are now going to focus on their "digital curriculum and assessment products." And you just have to love the language of these sorts of corporate bloviation-fests. From the NYT coverage:

“As positive as this relationship has been, Amplify and News Corp. both believe it is time to explore new and exciting strategic opportunities, working with partners who share a deep understanding of what it takes to be successful in education,” Mr. Klein added.

It makes me wonder what it is like to work in the corporate sphere up to your neck in refined bullshit all day, or how badly it messes with your head to constantly use language for the opposite of its purpose (communicate clearly and say what you mean). But we can hope that Klein does manage to partner with people who have a deep understanding of what it means to be successful in education, because I'm pretty sure that would be a career first for him.


  1. As I prepare to head "once more unto the breach" of the new academic year, I want to thank you again for shining an entertaining and informative ray of light on the endless parade of bumbling bureaucrats, rapacious reformistas, pusillanimous politicians, et al, who keep throwing obstacles in our way in the name of "the kids." For 30 years I've believed that one cannot work with students and be cynical, but God knows I've walked right up to the line and had both feet dangling over. Thankfully, your posts are here to stave off my gag reflex and make me feel like I'm not alone in my disgust and snark. Keep up the great work, Peter!

  2. Don't count Klein out. The next administration will be looking for an Ed. Secretary.

  3. Why do school districts continue to buy overpriced gadgets from hucksters? These tablets were a complete rip off as was the iPad disaster for LAUSD. Technology will not educate your child, but teachers can.

  4. correct on Klein, Liberal democrat. His twitter-traffic has increased quite a bit lately and it's less about the noccasional "shout-out" re: usefulness of his tech for children and much more parroting or conversation re: "How much we show we care for 'our' children when we deny NOLA doubters and work together for student outcomes". Strange how he seemed to drop off the grid for about a year and now he has sprung up with a new mission.