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Alumni Profile

Jonathan D. Harber, MBA ’90

Jonathan D. Harber, MBA ’90

CEO, Pearson K–12 Technology

  • Former CEO and co-founder of SchoolNet, Inc.
  • Former chairman and co-founder of NewKidCo, the first company to develop children’s educational games on PlayStation and Nintendo N64.
  • Former CEO and co-founder of Diva, publisher of VideoShop multimedia authoring software.

When the education reform bill, No Child Left Behind, became law in 2002, it set the stage for data-driven reform in the nation’s 14,000 school districts. Five years earlier, Jonathan D. Harber, MBA ’90, and Denis P. Doyle fortuitously co-founded SchoolNet, Inc., a company focused on helping school systems achieve greater educational outcomes through the myriad uses of data and technology.

Today, SchoolNet, which was acquired by Pearson in April 2011, has its Instructional Improvement System (IIS) software at work in more than one-third of the country’s largest urban districts, collectively educating more than 5 million K–12 students, providing a link between data analysis and reporting, formative assessment, curriculum management, and more. With Harber now at the helm as CEO of Pearson K–12 Technology, he is setting the stage for continued innovations designed to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement.

“There are different types of assessments for different purposes, and the way we have approached the market is by working with superintendents and school leaders and showing how you can use the data in diagnostic ways to have midcourse corrections to improve achievement,” said Harber. “If you think about the medical field, there is someone at the hospital level looking at how many patients a doctor sees and how well they performed, but what is more important is what kinds of tools the doctor has to diagnose and offer remediation.”

“In the past, before technology, teachers were flying blind,” Harber continued. “There may be 30 kids in a classroom, and you can be confident there is a bell curve and some students know a lesson and some don’t, and some are in the middle, without the teacher actually knowing who is where. The notion of teachers having real-time data on kids, where you can then base lessons on personalized instruction … you essentially get to a world where you are crafting the education to each mastery path.”

Harber’s roots in the collection and dissemination of data date back to his days at MIT Sloan, where he devoted much of his time to the MIT Media Lab, wrote a thesis on education technology, and built a multimedia environment for business school case studies. A founding chair of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Club, Harber’s focus turned to the context of education and global competitiveness, along with domestic civil rights, after starting several successful companies and partnering with SchoolNet co-founder Doyle.

“It seemed like a lot of the work we had been doing prior to SchoolNet was helping the top 10 percent,” said Harber. “We realized that urban school systems needed so much help, and improving these systems was the only way to achieve scale in improvement. If you look at the statistics—one-third of kids are dropping out of high school, and in urban areas it’s 50 percent—your chances of meaningful employment get slimmer and slimmer.”

“Where we are headed is basically personalized learning at a scale where every student is going through their own learning path with data informing them of where they are,” said Harber, “with a social learning network of peers, teachers, mentors, and parents guiding them through their education.”