Why Apple sold PowerSchool

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.


6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Wow John – my mind is really racing. What an interesting way to create one more way of delivering e-books.

    I tend to be a strong auditory learner so for me the iPod is a good solution. My wife listens to a lot of books already on her Nano.

    With a larger screen and maybe some way to mark or highlight key points in the audio presentation, or even add verbal glosses, this would be “way cool”.

    See! You’ve got this grandfather using “way cool”. I hope you’re happy!

    Thanks for posting what you are seeing.

  • I came across this from your comment at AppleMatters.com. I write for them also. I write a lot about iPods and totally agree with everyone you say.

    I have to add one thing, though. iPod and the entire iLife suite has much more to offer than downloading books or lectures. I’ll be writing a few articles in the next week about education and Apple, starting this week (I’m published on Tuesdays.) The week after this (first Tuesday in June) I’ll be talking about what Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse is doing with iLife. I am so impressed with the learning going on there. The end result of their latest project is lots of “real world” learning that will result in a gift to the community (and will also end up on iTunes.)

    I enjoyed your comment on AppleMatters and your blog. Thanks.

  • P.S. I’m just writing the first article now and I’m not sure the shape it’s going to take, but tune in on Tuesday. Your blog might be mentioned.

  • Very cool, Janet. Looking forward to your article on Tuesday.

    I’m very, very interested in what schools are doing with technology … one school (actually about 5-6 schools in one) that seems to really have it down is High Tech High in San Diego.

    Despite the name, they rarely mention technology or computers … they just use it. It’s like air, or chalkboards, or books: so obvious it’s not remarked on any more. But the things that they do and the results they get are incredible.

  • I don’t think so.

    PowerSchool is an SIS: student information system. It manages data generated by, for, and in the educational process: grades, students names, attendance, etc.

    StudyWiz is an LMS: Learning Management System. It helps teacher prepare and deliver courses and information, and potentially individualize instruction. It should feed an SIS system, but it focuses much more tightly on instruction than on data.