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Cohen Bullish on Path Forward for McGraw-Hill Education

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"The company that has transformation opportunity," said Peter Cohen of McGraw-Hill Education (@MHEducation). Cohen joined McGraw in March as President of K-12 School Education. "It was a chance to work in a nimble organization with great digital products," said Cohen.

James McGraw and John Hill combined forces more than 100 years ago. Today the company employs more than 6,000 people in 44 countries and publishes in more than 60 languages. McGraw-Hill Education was acquired by private equity investor Apollo Global Management (NYSE: APO; not the Apollo Group that owns U of Phoenix) in November 2012 for $2.5 billion.

The first step, according to Cohen, was "refining our mission, vision, guiding principles." The division is a "PreK-12 partner dedicated to reimagining learning in digital world, providing superior solutions engaging, easy to use, that contribute to increased student achievement and efficiency," said Cohen.

"Our only reason for being is to improve student achievement" Cohen continued, "If we don't put ourselves in the shoes of students we won't produce products that improve achievement for students."

Cohen and his colleagues in higher education, international, and assessment, are "becoming a solution partner, rather than instructional resource partner." That means "Converting from being focused on instructional resources to systems where you provide outcomes regardless of whether inputs are created internally or externally."

Adaptive opportunities. McGraw recently purchased the remaining shares of ALEKS, a widely used adaptive math program. "Adaptive learning is one of the core elements of our thinking going forward," said Cohen. ALEKS has been updated for Common Core. It covers middle school through college level math. "The user experience has skewed toward high school and college," said Cohen, but McGraw is updating the user experience and extending problems down to third grade.

Last year, McGraw also acquired Key Curriculum, publisher of Sketchpad, a leading software for teaching mathematics.

In English Language Arts and Social Studies, McGraw's LearnSmart is a product of a partnership with Area9, a Danish company. It provides "SmartBooks" that personalize reading for the student and are primarily designed for college-level classes; there are about 200 available, with another 100 on the way by the beginning of 2014. Also, WonderWorks, a supplemental reading acceleration program is powered by the LearnSmart technology.

ONboard Series is an online solution for Advanced Placement, an interactive program designed to help prepare incoming AP students.

Cohen also sees opportunity in closer links to the assessment division, CTB McGraw-Hill. "Acuity is a great formative assessment program . We are breaking down barriers between product groups," said Cohen.

Platform play. When he reviewed the portfolio, Cohen found four interesting learning platforms:

  • CINCH Learning : cloud-based, interactive K-12 curriculum for math and science that helps integrate technology directly into the classroom.
  • ConnectED : a digital teaching and learning platform for the K-12 market, keeping students in touch with one another, as a well as having full access to their course content.
  • LearnSmart Advantage : adaptive learning suite - which includes SmartBook, adaptive e-books that create study sessions that direct students to the concepts they need to learn.
  • Connect : a higher education platform that helps faculty create digital content by combining McGraw Hill's published content with their own and make it interactive for student engagement.

McGraw also represents the Israeli elementary platform Time to Know in the U.S. "It's an impressive platform with a great user experience for teachers," said Cohen. It supports daily regrouping of students for collaborative work on problems and projects. McGraw develops content, sells and provides training for Time to Know.

There is significant feature overlap between the platforms. Cohen has a "goal to take best from each and create a unifying experience." That doesn't mean one platform but there will be an effort to build functionality without replication.

"If we want schools to embrace this revolution we as an industry need to do a better job of making it easier for teachers." Stephen Laster, Chief Digital Officer, is leading that charge from a new office in Boston's edtech corridor. "We won't always be the center of the universe, but we will be a player and programs need to operate with others."

Lloyd "Buzz" Waterhouse was named president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Education in June 2012. He announced last week that he'll be leaving by the end of the year.

Cohen will keep pushing for system solutions that are engaging, effective, easy, and efficient.

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