Amplify, an educational unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, made a surprising announcement today, unveiling a new tablet designed for public school classrooms. As the New York Times reports, the 10-inch Android tablet will be officially presented Wednesday at an SXSWedu event led by Joel Klein, News Corp. executive vice president, former chancellor of New York City's public school system, and an ardent supporter of tech-savvy classrooms.
"We understand technology and we understand education," Klein told the Times. "A lot of people who understand technology don’t understand education."
"A lot of people who understand technology don't understand education."
The tablet relies on what educators refer to as "blended learning" — a combination of tech and traditional teaching methods. Each device comes pre-loaded with curriculum and training materials composed by former teachers, and includes classroom-specific features, such as an "eyes on the teacher" warning that appears onscreen whenever a student's attention starts to drift.
Amplify, which will also sell its curriculum to schools for use on other tablets, began testing the tablet in classrooms late last year, and will now begin marketing it more widely, beginning with middle schools. The wifi-only model starts at $299, plus a two-year subscription for $99, while the Amplify Tablet Plus comes with a 4G subscription and costs $349 (designed for students without wireless access at home).
Conflict of interest?
Amplify says schools should be able to finance this purchase through the Education Department's Race to the Top grant program, though some are concerned that as a former public official turned private sector executive, Klein may have a conflict of interest. "You can’t at the same time go out and present yourself as a civic citizen talking about how public schools right now are horrible and then say, 'Oh, I have a product that is going to make it better,'" said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
As a member of the private sector, Klein has also donated money to organizations supporting specific candidates for the Los Angeles Board of Education elections. In 2011, he played a critical role in helping Rupert Murdoch's organization navigate through a controversial phone hacking scandal that did significant damage to the News Corp. brand.
Amplify spokesman Justin Hamilton, however, says Klein can effectively balance his interests going forward. "Joel has long been a big supporter of education reform efforts," Hamilton told the Times, adding that he "will continue to support candidates."