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Jun 23, 2011

Rupert Murdoch … coming to a classroom near you soon

News Corporation plans to become a leading provider of educational materials within five years, aiming for about 10% of total revenue to come from this source.

Looks like Rupert Murdoch is determined to be coming to a classroom near you, in what is shaping as a new direction for his international media company, backed by all its existing might and including some very conscious political campaigning.

This morning The Australian carries this snippet quoting a speech Murdoch gave in London in which he signals that News Corporation plans to become a leading provider of educational materials within five years, aiming for about 10% of total revenue to come from this source.

The speech quoted by The Oz doesn’t appear to be online anywhere at the moment, but it would seem to echo this effort, given in Paris last month in which he announces News Corp’s plans to get into education in “a big way”.

Meanwhile, in the last little while he has recruited the former chancellor of the New York City education department, Joe Klein, as CEO of News Corporation’s education division, bought up an educational software and technology company, and a couple of weeks ago announced more poachings from New York City and other US education departments, charged with “working with school districts to implement the divisions programs”.

The potential significance for Australia is that Julia Gillard embraced Klein’s ideas when she was education minister, and was involved in inviting him to Australia. The controversial My School website, and the increased emphasis on measuring school performance, are in part inspired by the New York model.

Add to this the fact that in the USA News Corporation is partnering with not for profits in efforts to make education a leading issue in the 2012 presidential election and its beginning to look like a mighty push.

The pitch, nobody could argue with. Murdoch’s speeches outline how digital technology is transforming every area of human activity, but in most classrooms teachers are still delivering via blackboard (actually more often a whiteboard, Rupert), giving the same material to the class regardless of individual interest or ability.

Traditional text book publishing, while hardly making big profits, has the merit of secure income streams at a time when everything else in media and publishing is changing and insecure. It’s great to have a captive audience, after all. Here is how the News Corporation media releases spin the plan:

“News Corporation’s Education Division is focused on individualised, technology-based content and learning opportunities that support world class student and teacher performance, as well as digital assessment tools for K-12 students in the United States that help eliminate the achievement gap.”

Who is going to argue with better education, particularly when News Corporation has recruited world experts such as Klein?

Again, it looks like a good idea for Murdoch. The impressive but also alarming thing is the way in which he has moved to corner the expertise and colonise the political high ground. Will competing providers ever be able to catch up?

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5 comments

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5 thoughts on “Rupert Murdoch … coming to a classroom near you soon

  1. Jackon Taylor

    The last thing I want is News Ltd hacks writing educational material. The clear bias in all NL media and the overt political ambitions of Mr Murdoch raise concerns about whether the goal is profit or ‘education’ for the young.

  2. drmick

    It is one thing entirely to be a citizen of the world, but this megalomaniac in trying make us all citizens of his world. No thanks. Look at the way he treats his mother?

  3. Clytie

    The thing about the U.S. push to “improve education” is that it hasn’t worked. In many cases, it has made things worse for the very students it supposedly aims to help.

    The equivalents of NAPLAN, performance pay and “targeted” learning in the U.S. and U.K. have been evaluated as failures, and worse, as measures which actively disadvantage students.

    You can’t measure learning and growing independence with money or other narrow criteria. Literacy and numeracy aren’t all we need to know. Putting pressure on schools and students has always been shown to be counter-productive. The success of each student or teacher is due to a complex network of information and support: no person does it alone.

    If we really want students to grow into independent adults with the ability to think critically, acquire new skills and adapt to new situations, we have to provide adequate and consistent funding for education and training. We need to fall out of love with quick fixes and ideological directions.

    We need to support great opportunities like the national curriculum and technology, rather than seeing them purely as a way to cut costs and look avant-garde. When you introduce a new method into teaching, which may well save money in the future (textbooks on mobile devices have enormous potential here), you still need to invest in making it work. Anything new takes time, effort and consistent practice if you want to use it effectively. We have to support innovation and its adoption, rather than expecting everyone to change their ways completely overnight.

    We need to stop placing ever-increasing pressure on teachers and learners (in fact, on our working and learning in general), because we have long passed the point of diminishing returns. To achieve change and make progress, you have to invest consistently in time and effort. You have to provide consistent and effective support.

    It’s time we stopped seeing workers and learners as disposable commodities. Burnout numbers have never been higher in workplaces. Invest in genuine and consistent support for the changes we need. Stop thinking quick fixes will work, and stop blaming them on others when they don’t. Sticking more bandaids on top doesn’t help.

    For education and training, we need to stop seeing it as some sort of free market. Cheaper is not better, for services. Efficiency is often not cheaper. You really do tend to get what you pay for.

    In this case, we get more American dumbing down (they’re near 30 on the world education index: we’re in the top six) and corporatization of our classrooms. It’s not a good direction.

  4. klewso

    There are also conflicting reports about the effectiveness of “Klein’s Revolution” – that it could be more a “Klein’s Bottle”.
    But, seriously, it wasn’t that long ago “Ronald McDonald” was looking to get into our class rooms – so caan’t another from of those “golden arches”? “Papa ‘doch” Murdoch? What have we got to lose but increased cases of conservative political indoctrination and coulrophobia? I say, let’s experiment on our kids!

  5. Richard Wilson

    The end is nigh when Murdoch is allowed to control education in Australia and judging from Gillard’s love affair with Joel Klein (former education boss of New York and Murdoch’s new education csar), that could be any time soon. Klein, according to US Federal Government Education Department whistle blowers Diane Ravitch (The Death and Life of the Great American School System) and Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt (The Deliberate dumbing down of America), has wrought havoc wherever he has applied his political agenda. He is ably assisted by a raft of corporate funded tax exempt foundations with their politically derived conclusions, whose financiers plan to make a killing building new “improved” computerised teaching schools complete with empty school halls and no teachers; selling lots of computers, textbooks and standardised tests aimed at a minimum rather than maximum level of achievement for each child.

    Standardised testing (or dog training) is a Skinnerian croque and a failure (as attested by Obama’s own Education advisor, Professor Linda Darling Hammond, who was recently in Australia with the message “for God’s sake don’t do to yours what we have done to our children). But a few corporations have made billions out of the Federal Govt’s programmed takeover of state based education through Charter Schools in the US and Academy schools in the UK. The move will bring about end times for teachers as computerised classrooms take over, standardised tests are relentlessly administered to a brain numb student population and textbook suppliers destroy the second hand textbook market by making enough minor variations in texts each year to render them valueless to following classes.

    To give you an idea, the testing industry alone in the US went from $100 million in the time of Clinton when the government still operated it, to $10 billion after Bush Jr. introduced “No Child Left Behind”. (Not that Clinton was any innocent having killed Glass Steagall and introduced the devastating Commodities Trading Modernisation Act thereby ensuring the financial crisis the world is now going through). In the US, this stuff is rexulting in teachers are losing their jobs, schools are closing down and parents are out in the streets as their children are being forced out of an increasingly punitive system designed to hand the public education system to corporations -and all paid for by the taxpayer through the public private handout system for buddies.

    This scam cannot be allowed to go on in Australia. Many teachers are nervous wrecks and kids are overwhelmed practicing these dumb tests for hours every week in the belief that poor results will result in their victimisation and they do get victimised. In a high stakes testing environment as is being evidenced in the US and the UK, schools stop teaching curriculum and spend half the year practicing these diagnostic standardised tests. Not only does any chance of a broad based education get thrown out, but some unpleasant practices start occurring (already here by the way) such as schools cheating the tests, making sure the less able students are away on the day of the tests and any other ruse they can think of. Schools which are particularly dependent upon government handouts or with low performing student populations are most at risk of losing funds and ultimately of being sold off to corporations which at government expense rebuild the school as a charter operation running vanilla testing as a matter of course. The result has been in the US for universities to set their own entrance exams because they do not believe the results of the state’s NCLB tests.

    It is already happening here under our noses while we debate a national curriculum which is still nowhere close to the quality of the internationally recognised curriculum developed by the NSW Board of Studies.

    Do not let corporations run education in Australia. We have always had a system balanced between state and not for profit, non government players (largely religious based) which has provided Australia with a unique solution to education. It is not perfect but it provides choice to the many – not just the privileged; and it takes pressure off the states who are the principal funders of public education. Our Australian education system has always been with few exceptions a not for profit operation. Any disruption to this balance through the introduction of for profit businesses into a social good will in my view spell disaster.

    Public private partnerships have been a flop worldwide. They involve taxpayer bailouts and higher costs. Look at the cost of services at Sydney Airport and the mess the NSW road system is in as routes were privatised, not to mention the massive inbcreases in costs of energy with the privatisation of electircity and gas.

    We should be concentrating on a broad based curriculum, not diagnostic tests which even their designers ACARA noted were not adequate for what the governement has been doing with them, following release under FOA of its board minutes. We could choose to spend money on teachers and support mechanisms for a broad based curriculum that allows for a wide range of educational interests rather than run this phony efficiency – sustainability corporatisation story.

    Do you really want your child taught “vanilla” by a computer? Someone who gets turned out of a system to be just smart enough to run the machines and do the paper work but dumb enough to handle the increasingly crappy jobs with the diminishing overtime and hourly rates while even professional jobs get exported to low cost centres in Asia and elsewhere.

    Leading New York Times columnist and social commentator David Brooks made a telling point in his recent address delivered to the Commonwealth Club in Palo Alto, California. Brooks said:

    “We have spent the last two or three decades rearranging the bureaucratic boxes – big schools, small schools, charter schools, vouchers and a whole series of reforms that produced disappointing results because they skirted the core issue which is that individual relationship between a teacher and his student and the reality is that people learn from people they love but if you mention that at a congressional hearing they look at you like you were Oprah!”

    Brooks says we have an incredible paradox where politicians who are some of the most socially attuned people on earth when they are on the road being politicians take a completely dehumanised budget office view of humanity when it comes to education.