There is further consolidation in the EdTech industry as a publishing giant, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is buying the Oregon-based assessment non-profit NorthWest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

NWEA produces the MAP suite, a product which tests students several times a year to understand how individuals are progressing on understanding curriculum concepts in K–12 math, reading, language usage, and science. MAP testing is untethered from funding or the consequences that can accompany other state-wide testing but can give teachers and districts some insight on how their class or individuals might perform on those standardized tests.

Naturally the tests still suffer from many, though not all, of the issues that Akil Bello brought up, and standardized testing in general should still be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But the advantage that the MAP testing brings is some standardization and scale to student data. One of the consistently most difficult things about education is data collection in a way that is safe and secure, while also being large enough to allow people seeing the whole picture to understand insights. A non-profit with data sources across the country which a district can implement as a standard to identify classes or student groups who are struggling, is a reasonable compromise.

But their acquisition by HMH, a for profit publisher, for an undisclosed amount of money puts some of those district contacts in an awkward position. Just like when 2U bought edX, many schools who were comfortable with NWEA might not be so comfortable with HMH running all of the assessments.

It is clear from the press release that HMH is planning to leverage insights from the data collected from students, and while it is not clear who has final ownership of that data, it seems likely that HMH, as a for profit company, would not have gone through effort of acquiring them if the data didn’t come too.

And NWEA has a far reach. They have quietly become a behemoth in assessment, even buying several assets and contracts from their competition to become an industry leader. 

While there is a lot of sense to have standards in a space like assessment, so that data sets from different areas can be compared, doing so via consolidation is always worrying. As competition goes down individual firms do not need to work as hard to stay relevant, so cost goes up and competence goes down. 

It also allows them to achieve name-recognition which can be a moat to any other competitors, given that education is a conservative space and no one will get fired for choosing the industry leader, even if HMH is ever responsible for something like a student data leak.

The other part of this acquisition is that HMH is already a subsidiary of another company. They were acquired by a venture capital firm named Veritas Capital less than a year ago. Veritas’ other subsidiaries are diverse but include at least one EdTech company, Cambium Learning Group, which has its own list of subsidiaries and likely means that they won’t compete against each other for any future RFPs.

As consolidation in the space continues it might be a long time before we see anything truly useful come out of the ever more profitable EdTech industry.

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