SIIA Member Spotlight Featuring, CEO of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)

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ETIN recently had an opportunity to speak with Jack Lynch the CEO, president and director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH). Jack's passion for the work he does has never wavered thanks to the way it allows him to make a strong, positive impact on the lives of students. Prior to joining HMH in 2017, he had already accumulated experience in the field of education with his role as CEO at Renaissance Learning, which is a leader in learning analytics for K-12. Since 1999, Lynch has been an active member of the K-12 education industry. Notable experience also includes his role as founding CEO at, an education network that served 40,000 schools and being the CEO and president of Pearson Technology Group.

A Deeper Look at the Efforts

Lynch and HMH focus on technology that lets teachers unlock the learning potential of their students. HMH utilizes the technology in three ways, starting with personalizing instruction via data analytics. It also encourages the use of technology to engage students, since the current K-12 students are all digital natives. Because of the digital native status of the students, HMH makes an effort to go above and beyond, including doing work in virtual reality, such as taking field trips to caves across the world.

Finally, HMH utilizes technology to automate some of the more basic tasks that teachers need to complete. For example, HMH products incorporate the use of speech recognition and artificial intelligence to time and correct a child's reading skills, so a teacher does not have to sit down and do this for every single student in their classroom. That type of automation frees up time for the teacher to spend more time with the children to enhance their education. It also lets students practice more.

Overall, the focus at HMH is on purposeful technology instead of simply incorporating technology into education for the sake of technology. One way in which it accomplishes this goal is via its International Center for Leadership and Education. Speakers will visit school districts to discuss purposeful technology.

A Specific Example in Connecticut

One example of a major transformation HMH has managed to deliver to a school took place in Norwalk, Connecticut. The school district was significantly underperforming in reading and math. HMH conducted diagnostics and determined that a large number of students were several grade levels behind where they should have been, requiring intervention. The company also determined that the elementary school teachers needed professional development in math solutions. It implemented a combination of professional development and intervention, along with core programs. This prompted the school district to improve its performance and obtain scores in reading and math that were not only above the state average but above the national norms.

At another school district, HMH was able to reduce the dropout rate from 49 percent all the way down to 12 percent in two years.

Most Rewarding Part

Jack Lynch entered the industry because he wanted the opportunity to help improve the lives of 50 million different students. He also feels that many others join the industry for similar reasons. Lynch thinks that once people are actually in the industry, they fall in love with the way that they can change the lives of students. The ability to turn around the lives of students who feel like they do not understand anything and are close to dropping out by understanding them and guiding their learning has an impact that cannot be matched. It provides students with the tools they need to succeed in school, helping them reach goals such as attending university or excelling at their future job.

For Lynch, seeing a student change their outlook and make that adjustment is the most rewarding. To further increase the reward, while other roles let you change the life of a single student at a time, education technology makes it possible to have this impact on dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of students in a single go.

Measuring the Impact

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt does not just work to enhance learning and provide solutions but also conducts research to determine the impact and efficacy of various approaches. Psychometricians and PhDs work hard to measure outcomes on HMH products. The company has foundational research papers based on multiyear trails complete with randomization. There is also a platform that lets HMH measure how well students do based on the resources used, with outcomes providing an assessment. This way, HMH can deliver concrete statistics regarding outcomes related to various products.

Lynch's Industry Insights

Lynch feels that one of the most important trends in educational technology at the moment is the push toward purposeful technology. Lynch says that purposeful technology is an excellent way for improving teacher capacity, personalizing instruction and engaging students. At the same time, he expresses hesitation at the way in which some people wish to use artificial intelligence is becoming an alternative to some of the functions traditionally performed by teachers, such as sitting down with a student to help them sound out the words when learning to read.

Lynch and those with a similar viewpoint do not agree with the idea that artificial intelligence should be used to replace basic teaching functions since they feel learning and teaching are fundamentally social-emotional experiences. He says that there are just some things that programs cannot do as well as teachers, such as determining if a student is bored. Lynch adds that there is now a division in the ed tech industry based on whether the teacher is a key part of the technology or the companies feel that students can be reached in alternative ways.

Visions for the Future of EdTech

In terms of the future of ed tech as a whole, Lynch views the area of assessment as experiencing the quickest growth, particularly with computer-adaptive assessment and online assessment. This particular type of innovation can save teachers a great deal of time.

Lynch predicts that speech recognition will play a vital role in the ed tech in the future as the interface transitions to voice recognition from keyboards. On the other hand of the spectrum, Lynch sees potential challenges and risks in the world of ed tech in the form of those with little teaching or education experience and a higher-level education focused solely on business. When these people start a company in ed tech, they have not accumulated insight into the educational world that they can apply to their company and simply burn through the funding. Even so, Lynch expects to see a continuous large cash flow entering the early-stage ed tech companies since venture capital firms want to invest in industries with a purpose as well as the potential for profit.

Learn even more at the Educational Business Forum in New York City on December 9, 2019.

Jennifer Jennifer Carl is the Director of Software & Services Division Programs. Follow the Software team on Twitter at @SIIASoftware @SIIAJennifer