Facebook became the latest technology company to enter the national debate over how to best educate children with the announcement of a partnership with a network of charter schools to build educational software that will be offered for free to public schools.
Summit Public Schools, a non-profit organization that runs charter schools in the state of California and Washington, offers students a "personalized learning plan," essentially software that allows students to learn at their own pace.
Facebook's chief product officer Chris Cox said that “Facebook dedicated a team to work with students and teachers to improve the software with the goal of offering it for free to public schools”.
In 2014, more than 2,000 students and 100 teachers used the Facebook version of the software, Cox said.Summit is now launching a small pilot program.
Facebook's founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the partnership with Summit is "an example of how educators and engineers can team up to unlock more potential than we could have otherwise."
This is just the latest move by a major technology company and a growing number of start-ups to focus on education as an area ripe for disruption.
Google's Chromebooks and Apple devices are becoming commonplace in classrooms. Other companies have taken aim at education software. One start-up, Alt School, raised$100 million earlier this year for a network of private schools using custom technology to help educate kids.
Education is a cause that Zuckerberg has championed. Four years ago he made a $100 million gift to turn the Newark's failing public schools into "a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation." The effort has floundered.
In June Zuckerberg gave $5 million to provide college scholarships for undocumented students.
Cox says feedback from the Summit pilot program will be used to improve the software so it can eventually be offered for free "to any school in the U.S. that wants it."
Cox says the educational software does not require a Facebook account and issubject to "strict privacy controls" to protect student data.