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Rupert Murdoch's reputation precedes him—but one thing he's not well known for is his education reform advocacy. But that could soon change. Next month, Murdoch will make an unusual public appearance in San Francisco, delivering the keynote address at an education summit hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has lately been crisscrossing the country promoting his own version of education reform.
The high-profile speech to a collection of conservative ed reformers, state legislators, and educators is just the latest step in Murdoch's quiet march into the business of education, which has been somewhat eclipsed by the phone-hacking scandal besieging his media empire. (On Tuesday, word of Murdoch's appearance at Bush's conference came just hours after reports that News Corp. had agreed to pay more than $4 million to the family of a 13-year-old British murder victim, Milly Dowler, whose voicemail was hacked by reporters for Murdoch's News of the World. ) But Murdoch has made it very clear that he views America's public schools as a potential gold mine.
"In every other part of life, someone who woke up after a 50-year nap would not recognize the world around him…But not in education," he remarked in May during a speech at the "e-G8 forum" that preceded the G8 summit in France. "Our schools remain the last holdout from the digital revolution."
Last November, News Corp. dropped $360 million to buy Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education technology company that provides software, assessment tools, and data services. "When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching," Murdoch said at the time.
A few weeks before the deal, News Corp. had hired one of the nation's most prominent education figures, Joel Klein, away from his job as New York City schools chancellor. As it happens, Klein was already familiar with Wireless Generation, which began working with the New York City school system during his tenure.