Newsela Redefines the Student News Experience
Student access to relevant information and news continues to expand with technology advancements. I had the opportunity to interview Matthew Gross, CEO and co-founder, of Newsela. The Newsela team brings students current events and news aligning with current standards expected in today’s classroom.
Dr. Rod Berger: It seems pretty clear that Newsela met a need in the education market by the overwhelming response. What were the conditions, in your estimation, that set the variables in motion to create the space you filled with the Newsela solution?
Matthew Gross: Most education software is terrible. It represents an effort to take the centuries-old textbook model and put it online. Software that teachers and students use in school should be as good or better than the software they use for everything else in their lives. Same goes for the things they read. The shift is to focus more student reading on nonfiction that helps them understand, participate and be ready for the world they will inherit.
Teachers don’t have the tools that they need to make the best decisions for their students. Too much software tries to replace the teacher’s professional judgment and expertise — when software tries to automate the art of teaching, it fails miserably. Empowering teachers is where it’s at.
RB: Many have feared the “mighty” and sometimes mythical creature of educational publishing given their stronghold on the market. How did you and your team think about the market, the disruption you would ultimately create and the aftermath of a successful launch?
MG: The fact is that publishers don’t have a stronghold on the market. Districts I visit across the country are putting textbook adoptions on hold or scrapping them altogether. Less than half of the money schools spend on instructional materials goes into textbooks, and that number is going down, purchase order by purchase order. We’re living in an era when every century-old industry is being reinvented for the digital age. In five or 10 years, the biggest education companies in the world will be ones that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago.
RB: Following up, do you find that the textbook publishers, who I might add are very quickly trying to reinvent themselves in the digital age, are nervous about the impact Newsela is having in a world where we are constantly questioning the shelf life of textbooks?