Early Childhood

What’s Motivating Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Early-Childhood Ed. Approach?

By Benjamin Herold — September 24, 2018 2 min read
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos walks onstage during a product launch at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the nonprofit preschools to be operated by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ new Day 1 Academies Fund, he says, “the child will be the customer.”

Does that stance reflect a market-driven approach to improving early-childhood education? A business play to turn preschoolers into loyal Amazon Prime members? A signal that parents of young children should get ready for the personalized, algorithm-driven recommendation engines upon which Amazon’s retail empire was built?

Absent any further detail from Bezos and Amazon, the answer for now is that it depends who you ask.

Rhian Allvin, the CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, was among those with a relatively benign view of Bezos’ intentions.

“I interpret it as being a ‘child centered philosophy,’ which is really important,” Allvin said. “Each child develops and learns differently.”

See Also

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Ambitious Pre-K Move Sparks Wary Reactions

A Tech Titan’s K-12 Footprint

That’s not inconsistent with the current trend in Silicon Valley, where tech entrepreneurs ranging from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to small startup founders are trying to blend a focus on the “whole child” with data-driven personalization.

“Bezos didn’t say ‘personalized learning,’ but I think that’s what he means,” said independent ed-tech researcher Audrey Watters, who maintains the popular ‘Hack Education’ blog. “Look at Amazon’s interface, which is constantly monitoring you and collecting data to make better product recommendations.”

If that’s the case, Watters said, Bezos should proceed with caution. Parents won’t easily accept the kind of “pervasive surveillance” that Amazon uses with consumers being applied to their preschoolers, she said.

Are there insights to be gleaned from Amazon’s existing forays into education?

At the K-12 level, not so much, said Trace Urdan, the K-12 analyst from Tyton Partners. The company’s most successful plays there have been on the back end of schools’ operations, providing cloud storage through Amazon Web Services and seeking to help streamline bulk purchasing of supplies. EdWeek Market Brief, a business intelligence service produced by the publisher of Education Week, explored Amazon’s growing footprint in the K-12 space, and the clout that it and other tech giants Apple, Google, and Microsoft wield in the school market, in a special report last year.

Amazon’s approach to higher education could be more relevant. By trying to make textbook buying as easy and inexpensive as possible, Urdan said, Amazon is hoping to gain the loyalty of a key demographic at a critical point in their consumer lives.

But even that example, he said, is probably illustrative mostly as a window into how Bezos’ mind works.

“I think it’s unfair to suggest he wants to secretly groom future Amazon customers at age 4, even though that’s exactly how Amazon is thinking about college students,” Urdan said."When I think about the Amazon approach, I think about serving up a giant range of options, and delivering them in the most frictionless way possible.”

Does that mean the Day 1 Academies Fund’s focus will be on giving parents more easily accessible preschool choices?

“It seems Bezos is probably thinking about innovation, and he’s going to draw on his experience at Amazon,” Urdan said. “Beyond that, it’s all supposition.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 26, 2018 edition of Education Week as What’s Motivating Amazon CEO’s Early-Childhood Ed. Approach?


Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood What the Research Says Starting School After the Pandemic: Youngest Students Will Need Foundational Skills
The earliest grades saw the biggest enrollment drops in 2020-21. Experts say these students will need significant help come fall.
4 min read
Image shows preschool boy wearing a protective face mask with a marker in hand.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Early Childhood Opinion Waterford Upstart on Providing Remote Learning to 90,000 Pre-K Kids
Rick Hess speaks with Dr. LaTasha Hadley of Waterford Upstart about its use of adaptive software to close gaps in kindergarten readiness.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood Opinion How Two Child-Care Centers Put Competition Aside and Created a Partnership During COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, two early-childhood centers put their competition aside to work together to support families during the pandemic.
Charles Dinofrio
7 min read
Early Childhood New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote
As school districts move to remote instruction for the fall, day-care providers, dance studios, and after-school programs step in to fill school-day child-care gaps.
7 min read
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
Courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston