The rumors had been around for some time: PowerSchool was on the auction block. Now it’s official.
But why? Why did Apple sell PowerSchool? It appears that the division was not profitable enough for Apple, and there were always rumors of issues around the development of new versions of PowerSchool.
But I think there are two key reasons.
One: Not selling more Macs
One is that PowerSchool did not actually help Apple sell more Macs.
When Apple bought the company, PowerSchool had about 10,000 school clients, if memory serves. (I did a research project on student information systems (SIS) for my company about 5-6 years ago.)
The theory was that with PowerSchool as the foot in the door, Apple would be able to sell more Macs to education. And the magic of bundling would also make selling PowerSchool easier in schools that already had a significant Mac prescence.
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, unfortunately, there is.
Apple’s penetration in education has at best held even over the past 5-6 years. More likely, it’s trended down. In fact, PowerSchool didn’t help Apple sell more Macs.
In retrospect, it’s not too hard to see why.
First of all, schools make buying decisions on SIS systems maybe every 10 years. It’s like buying Oracle. You don’t switch to DB2 next year just because somebody gives you a 10% off coupon.
Secondly, they are purchases made with two significantly different audiences. The people making buying decisions on SIS systems are principals, districts, and states. On the other hand, classroom teachers often have significant input into instruction computer buying practices.
And third, it’s not a works-better-together scenario. Because it’s web-based, PowerSchool will work for anyone with any modern computers: Windows, Mac, Linux, you name it. Have web browser, will travel. Same thing for most of the other modern SIS systems on the market. That’s as it should be: back-office and front-office applications are de-coupled and independently upgradable.
Two: Educational content on iPods
But the piece of the deal that’s most intriguing to me is the committment on the part of Pearson to bring their educational content to iPod.
There is no bigger company in educational technology than Pearson. They already have the leading SIS software in the market, SASI xp. But that’s not all they do.
Pearson is a quintessential international megacorp, with businesses all over the world. However, they’re biggest in publishing. In educational publishing, they make textbooks, they publish novels for age-targeted audiences, and more – particularly, curriculum-related products. As they so modestly state:
We are the leading pre K-12 curriculum, testing, and software company in the US, reaching every student and teacher in that country with one or more of our products and services. We offer a wide range of solutions that integrate our instructional, assessment, and reporting capabilities. These instructional offerings include basal and supplemental programmes, and technology-delivered adaptive learning solutions.
What if you were a company that had a strong historical presence in education with slightly declining market share, but also had an incredibly hot product in the general consumer market that can display text, play audio, and show movies?
You might try to make that incredibly hot product the basis for an educational trojan horse. If so, you’d probably be a well-known fruit-flavored company.
In fact, that’s just what I predicted three weeks ago. After, just for the heck of it, I put one of my company’s courses on my iPod, the lightbulb went on and it became clear to me that the iPod is a perfect vehicle for mobile, personalized course content delivery.
Not so good for interaction, necessarily. And not something that will take the place of discussion, teachers, and all the other needed accoutrements of school. But certainly an excellent way to distributed course text, images, audio, and video.
Education has been looking for e-books for some time now. Maybe the iPod … particularly a next-generation model with a larger screen … is precisely that, but we never realized it until now.
Hmmm. Starts some bells ringing, doesn’t it?
If you were Apple, wouldn’t that be something you wanted? You bet. And how would you get it? You might start by partnering with one of the largest education curriculum and supplemental materials producers out there.
You might start, in other words, with Pearson Education.