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McGraw Hill CEO on moving learning materials online to make it 'far more accessible'

McGraw Hill CEO Simon Allen highlights new services the company has launched due to COVID-19 for students and teachers, and how remote learning is shifting as some schools look to reopen in the fall.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: As schools across the country resume fall classes, education company McGraw Hill is helping teachers adapt to the new way of learning. It recently launched a new service, McGraw Hill Rise to help teachers try to ease back into this new year, regardless of what format they are now going to be teaching their classes in. Let's bring in Simon Allen. He's the CEO of McGraw Hill.

And Simon, let's start by talking about this new normal teachers are having to face. We've talked so much about remote learning, a potential hybrid learning environment. And yet, the reality for a lot of these teachers is, you know, they're just now learning how classes are actually going to be taught because a lot of these districts didn't make their decision until very late in the game.

SIMON ALLEN: You're absolutely right. And frankly, in many districts, the decision is yet to be made still. And it's been a tremendously stressful time for the teaching community at every level, be it K-12 into higher education. Every instructor and teacher that we've spoken with have expressed just the level of anxieties that not just they are feeling, but also the students as well. And they're asking us, Akiko, they're saying to us, what can you do to help us bridge that gap and allow us and help us to transform our classes, our courseware, our materials-- teaching materials-- online so that we know that our students have access to them? That's what we've been doing.

You mentioned McGraw Hill Rise. This is a wonderful new product. We conceived of it in April. We launched it last week, and it is a tremendous product for our middle and elementary school students, for the teachers to understand with their math and their English language arts, their literacy abilities, how much has the COVID slide affected what they know? Now what we've created is a very personalized, adaptive learning program that helps the teacher understand.

Now we know what they do remember from their prior classes. This is where we need to start again. And we're providing them with the materials to make sure that they have all the content through our platforms, McGraw Hill Connect, to make sure they can access to students.

ANDY SERWER: Simon, let me ask you about your legacy business. Because of course, for years and years, McGraw Hill was known for its textbook business. I'm sure it's still very much there. Can you tell us about that transition? Because it was surprising that it didn't go faster, that textbooks hung around as long as they did. And how much of your business is still those huge things that go into kids backpacks that break their backs walking around campus-- it's amazing how fast those books were-- and what a profitable business it is? And I won't even get into the whole racket with the professors. Leave that for maybe another time. But just where do we stand with that?

SIMON ALLEN: It's a great question. We-- I mean, we're very proud of our heritage-- you know, 130-year-old plus publisher, education company. We're proud of the content that we've created over that century plus. And quite honestly, the transition, it did take a long while. It's happening now with speed because of what's going on with the pandemic. It took a while because a lot of teachers and instructors at the higher ed level and K-12, is they are very familiar a certain pattern of teaching, a certain style of lesson preparation.

What we're seeing now is that they're being forced into a lot of online delivery. We've been investing hundreds of millions of dollars a year on our major platforms, Connect and McGraw Hill ALEKS, and this is helping all of those teachers that were, in some cases, a bit anxious about making the change. It's helped them get confidence that they can quite easily transform their class preparation.

They've put everything online. And in doing so, they removed the anxiety that the students face if they are-- which will happen if they're told to go back home at some time in the fall. They will be able to continue their classes seamlessly, either if they're physically with them, through this platform, or if they're at home through the exact same platform.

The content and material that we're so well known for for over a century, that's still there, but you're taking out of those heavy backpacks and putting it now online and making it far more accessible and better for assessment material, better for grading, giving the students more innovative materials to study from. And it's really improving the outcomes of the students.

RICK NEWMAN: Hey Simon, you mentioned the COVID slide and new ways to measure it. What do you know about the extent to which kids backslide or learn at a slower pace or whatever is happening, as it relates to--

SIMON ALLEN: Yeah, it's--

RICK NEWMAN: --that-- [INAUDIBLE]

SIMON ALLEN: It's a good question.

RICK NEWMAN: What is the COVID slide?

SIMON ALLEN: It's a good question, and there are a number of researchers, actually, that have come out with estimates that when you've had such a traumatic experience for children, they can lose up to 50% to 70% of what they've studied over the past year. It can really cause a significant delay in their learning activities. So what we're trying to do with McGraw Hill Rise is make sure that the teachers understand-- in those two areas primarily, math and literacy, the teachers understand what they have forgotten, where they need to go back to start to ensure that the students are prepared to go forward without-- in a way to bridge the gap that the COVID slide has caused.

AKIKO FUJITA: Simon, I want to talk to you about your initiatives on sort of accessibility, too. Because one of the things that really struck me back in March and April is just how quickly especially the public schools saw attendance drop off. And that seemed to suggest the access to internet-- you know, these students who, many ways, had essential workers, parents who had to actually go off and work, and they didn't have time to actually log in as well. I mean, how much of that divide has actually been narrowed, and what, as a company, are you doing to make sure that at least when class to start this month or in September, things are a little more even than they were back in the spring?

SIMON ALLEN: Yeah, the spring was such a traumatic time when everyone suddenly went home. Some children had access to laptops or iPads, whatever it may be-- smartphones. Others were completely cut off. And it worries us, as McGraw Hill, that we need to make sure we're making all the efforts we can add to improve the equity situation.

We're looking at various ways, Akiko, where we can help institutions and children get access in the simplest way to ensure that they can see what the teachers are doing, they can use the content that we're providing, and they don't get left behind. I do think one of the big concerns we have as a company is that the equity gap, as we refer to it, is at risk of increasing, rather than declining, which is what we'd all hoped for. And it's a problem. As schools send their children home, how do they know-- and hopefully they're sending them home with materials that they can use that are reliably able to access the internet so they can continue their studies. If they don't do that, the equity gap is going to continue.

What our obligation and commitment is to provide all the material in the best possible way and to make sure the pricing levels are very, very affordable for all of the students so that the outcomes can increase. That's really our mission over the last few months. We gave a great deal of content and materials away in spring. We're still piloting a number of projects in the fall, and we're hoping that that will increase the students' ability to access the material all online, which is by far the most flexible way to do it.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, no question that public-private partnership is going to be increasingly important, especially with so many of these schools, the districts having to deal with huge budget costs because of state budgets or state funding. Simon, great to have you on today, joining us from McGraw Hill there.