A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
The educational division of the media
conglomerate News Corp., called Amplify, unveiled a new digital tablet this
week at the SXSW tech conference in Austin, Texas, intended to serve millions
of schoolchildren and their teachers across the country.
Amplify promises the tablet will simplify
administrative chores for teachers, enable shy children to participate more
readily in discussions, and allow students to complete coursework at their own
pace while drawing upon carefully selected online research resources.
News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch
views the digital tablet as part of a push to modernize the educational system.
But he has another goal in mind as well. The media mogul is counting on future
revenues from his educational branch to help shore up the finances of his
newspaper and publishing division as it is split off later this year from the
conglomerate's vast holdings in television and entertainment.
And as a result, News Corp.'s initiative is
stirring both interest and controversy.
classroomlooks almost exactly the same as it did
in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front of a roomful of kids with
only a textbook, a blackboard and a piece of chalk," Murdoch said.
The person Murdoch hired to lead his charge,
Joel Klein, is familiar in education circles. Klein is a Democrat and served as
assistant attorney general under President Clinton. He was chancellor of the
New York City school system for more than eight years for Mayor Michael
Bloomberg. He's easy to pick out at Amplify's offices in midtown Manhattan.
He's the only person dressed in a suit and tie in a workspace that more closely
resembles a startup — replete with people confidently volleying at a pingpong
table and piloting miniature helicopters overhead as their CEO walks by.
"Critics and others have said, 'You know
... technology has been around a long time, but it hasn't changed the learning
experience,' " Klein told NPR. "It's not about hardware, it's not
about devices, it's really about learning.
"And if this does what I believe it will
do — which is enhance the teaching and learning processes — then it's going to
be a home run."
A sneak peak revealed an Android tablet with a
firm silicone jacket (designers say they have to expect pupils to be as
careless with the tablets as they are with traditional textbooks). It is
customized with apps for teachers to help them run quizzes and determine
pupils' progress with ease while containing all of their coursework in a
single, 10-inch device. It comes loaded with Amplify's curricular materials
that satisfy so-called "Common Core" requirements mandated in all but
five U.S. states. If Amplify wins the rights to carry most texts electronically
— admittedly a tough nut to crack, given how warily publishers view e-books —
the tablet can truly serve as a digital backpack.
Other companies, including such giants as
Apple, are trying to sell school districts on the value of their tablets, too.
Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify's Access division that creates the digital
platforms on which its curricular material is delivered, argues that his
company's tablet is distinctive because it is designed to allow students to
interact with teachers instantaneously.
"These devices are connected," Smyth
said recently. "If you go to Best Buy or a retailer and buy a tablet off
the shelf, it can't do this. Really, what we're trying to solve here is
actually how to have teachers use tablets in the classroom environment."
But some critics question what problem the
tablets from Amplify — and its competitors — are solving. Some teachers union
officials argue that Amplify's efforts are part of a disturbing effort to lure
politicians with technology that promises to enable teachers to handle more
students per class — and thus reduce how many teachers school districts will
need to employ.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of the
nonprofit Class Size Matters in New York City, said Klein and Murdoch
"believe that public school kids should have larger classes, and instead
of getting personalized instruction via their teachers, should do it via a
The tablet may well
function perfectly well on its own terms, Haimson said, but she contends that
Amplify's goal is less about helping schoolchildren than about turning a
"It's all part of
the same vision they have for transforming education by privatizing it,"
Haimson said. "And we have seen not just in New York City but nationwide
an avid pillaging going on of public resources for private ends."
Klein's record in New York, a selling point in
Murdoch's decision to hire him, is political baggage among some of his foes in
the battles over education policy. Diane Ravitch, a former assistant education
secretary under President George H.W. Bush who now criticizes some of her
earlier allies, wrote last year that Klein and former Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice had manufactured a schools crisis in a report for the Council
on Foreign Relations. Klein and Rice wrote a report that carried this stark
warning: "Educational failure puts the United States' future economic
prosperity, global position and physical safety at risk."
She wrote that Klein and Rice offered
prescriptions that were unproven — especially the reliance on technology
proffered by private corporations.
Just days after leaving city government in
2010, Klein joined News Corp. in order to invigorate Murdoch's efforts in
education. The company swiftly paid $360 million for an educational tech
venture called Wireless Generation, which had been a contractor for the city
schools on two high-profile projects. That firm was used as the basis for what
they rechristened "Amplify."
But before they could get very far, Murdoch's
tabloids in London became embroiled in the bribery and criminal phone hacking
scandal. New York state revoked a $27 million contract for an education
database with Amplify, citing concerns about the integrity of its parent
And Klein was pulled
away to help Murdoch clean up the legal mess. He led an effort to collaborate
with law enforcement authorities in both the U.K. and the U.S., thus limiting
the company's likely liability in both countries and enabling it to avoid any
criminal prosecutions or major civil sanctions for bribery in the U.S., at
least so far.
"The good news was, while we had a
problem in the U.K., that problem wasn't a global problem," Klein said.
Yet Klein, now back at Amplify, conceded there
is some suspicion of his boss's politics and motives, too.
In this country,
Murdoch has pushed for greater reliance on charter schools, criticized teachers
unions and given money to aid select politicians sharing his agenda. For
example, records show News
America, an arm of News Corp., gave $250,000 toward a group that helped to fund
like-minded candidates running for the Los Angeles Board of Education. And
Murdoch's primary American news organizations — Fox News, the Wall Street
Journal and the New York Post — have high-profile conservative pundits
who have often been skeptical to the point of hostile toward teachers groups.
But Klein said Amplify should not be confused
with its corporate siblings that often serve as a platform for political
"Rupert realized this from the beginning:
This is a division that's going to be focused on education," Klein said.
"We don't have a political mission — none whatsoever. What we're doing is
developing materials in math and science and the English language arts —
designed by leading experts.
"Our commitment," Klein said,
"is education only. We have no subsidiary agenda."