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Houghton Mifflin invests in tech

Associated Press / September 14, 2010

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Publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is making a $400 million investment to back up the company’s increasing emphasis on putting more technology into the nation’s classrooms.

The investment disclosed yesterday includes $100 million in incubator money for technology aimed at supporting student achievement.

Barry O’Callaghan, the CEO of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said his company can provide capital and product expertise to budding educational entrepreneurs.

He called the fund “our own mini-Race to the Top,’’ referring to President Obama’s competitive state education grant program.

O’Callaghan said the fund has already invested in a program for the Nintendo Wii video game console, though he declined to give details about it.

The Boston-based company also plans to invest $300 million over the next three years developing its own technology, such as a pilot algebra application for the Apple iPad currently being tested by 400 California eighth-graders.

The push into technology comes as nearly 40 states are moving to adopt Common Core State Standards, the uniform math and reading benchmarks developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

O’Callaghan said using technology in the classroom allows students, teachers, and parents to get better individualized data on students and is more “aligned to the way their brains work socially.’’

The pilot program in California, for example, enables students to receive instruction from an iPad equipped with the full class curriculum, including comprehension tracking tools that give students online tutoring based on quiz and test scores.

O’Callaghan says he doesn’t envision traditional textbooks disappearing entirely. The company is now about evenly split between hardbacks and online, he said.