Murdoch Bags First Schools Company and -- Surprise! -- It Helps Teachers Do Their Jobs

Last Updated Nov 23, 2010 3:09 PM EST

Just in case anyone was curious whether Rupert Murdoch's hiring of New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein was a publicity stunt, the old contrarian gave them a show of force today with the announcement of a $360 million deal to acquire all but 10% of Wireless Generation, a tech company that provides teachers with devices and software that enables them to monitor the progress of students and let the teachers collaborate.

Here's how the Financial Times describes Wireless Generation:

Products by the 10-year-old company, which employs 400 staff, are used by 200,000 teachers to assess the progress of about 3m students in 50 states, allowing them to adjust individual tuition plans accordingly. Its systems are also used to centralize student data and include social networking tools for teachers.
Of course, Klein had worked with Wireless Generation in the New York City schools and the deal allows the founders to stay in place as management while cashing out and benefiting from future growth and investment by News Corp.

Though Murdoch has been making aggressive statements about the potential for this to be a $500 billion market sector that News wants to transform, there's likely to be huge roadblocks between News Corp and easy money in education.

No sales or revenue information on Wireless Generation was released with news of the acquisition. But the choice of a technology provider aimed at supporting teachers should help Murdoch quell some of the fears that arose when he hired Klein.

So now we know that Klein's role is more to explain the way schools work and where the opportunities lie than to help Murdoch build his own schools. At least, so it would seem for now. More to the point, by getting behind a company that produces a product that is marketed as an aide to teachers providing better attention and oversight to the students in their care, the acquisition side-steps some of the hot button issues that will follow Murdoch into the schools.

No area of contemporary life has greater potential to become a political battle ground than the public schools. Highly unionized and beyond market-based measures, schools could easily become a battleground for the ideologically-driven Murdoch.

Instead, Wireless Generation--which pitches itself as a way to "help educators do their jobs"--immediately aligns News Corp. with the teaching community. Even if later acquisitions or investments counteract that, Murdoch (and Klein) have acquired a powerful battering ram for reform.

Image of Rupert Murdoch courtesy of World Economic Forum via Flickr