The slow demise of another much ballyhooed digital education venture



Amplify, a much-heralded push by News Corporation into digital education, led by Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chancellor, is nearing an inglorious end. News Corporation, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, said on Wednesday that it would take a $371 million write-down on the education division and would move to wind down the production of tablets for schoolchildren, a key part of the unit’s offering.

Moreover, News Corporation’s chief executive, Robert Thomson, said in an earnings call with analysts that the company was in an “advanced stage of negotiations” with a potential buyer for the remaining education business. Together, the moves highlight the difficulty that has confronted News Corporation and others looking to move teaching into the digital age, relying on the Internet and tablets to update traditional curriculums.

Few initiatives possessed the prominence of Amplify, which grew out of a nearly five-year-old acquisition of a testing software maker that became a small but visible part of News Corporation. And it gained a prominent leader in Mr. Klein, who oversaw New York City’s public schools under Michael R. Bloomberg and was known for pushing technology — sometimes controversially — into the city’s education system.

Among Amplify’s main propositions: an online curriculum that taught arts in a more vivid way, including videos, games and apps. An introduction to “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” relied on a video of the actor Chadwick Boseman, while a lesson on Edgar Allan Poe drew on games that students could play to solve a mystery. Such lessons could be run on several devices. But Amplify focused on its own custom-made tablets that would be leased out to schools. Yet the rollouts to various schools have been marred by problems, from malfunctioning tablets to slower-than-expected sales. In a note to Amplify employees sent on Wednesday, Mr. Klein said that many school districts lacked the necessary Internet connections.To that end, he wrote, Amplify will stop marketing the tablet and will no longer accept new customers, though it will continue to support existing subscribers.

“This move will allow us to focus our efforts on the growth and success of our digital curriculum and assessment products,” he wrote. The division is now in talks with “an outside investor” who would most likely be backed by the unit’s existing management. “As positive as this relationship has been, Amplify and News Corp. both believe it is time to explore new and exciting strategic opportunities, working with partners who share a deep understanding of what it takes to be successful in education,” Mr. Klein added.

In part, News Corporation’s exit from its education business is the result of the company’s recent reorganization. When it created Amplify in 2012, the company was much larger, with the 21st Century Fox movie studio and Fox television assets under its umbrella. But a year later, Mr. Murdoch split the company in two: 21st Century Fox, the lucrative entertainment assets, and News Corporation, which includes the newspaper assets and the education business. Losing hundreds of millions of dollars on a start-up education business became far less tenable inside a much smaller and far less profitable News Corporation.