Pearson “Eduprofitation” – a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Shortlink: http://shawnbeightol.com/blog/?p=452

Seem’s American Laws protecting against monopolistic enterprises have been on the books long enough to have been fully explored for weaknesses and loopholes. Our new Robber-Barrons rob from public service entities, like public healthcare, prisons, and now, Public Schools.

Consider this story in Maine’s Sunday Telegram:

Special Report: The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine

Documents expose the flow of money and influence from corporations that stand to profit from state leaders’ efforts to expand and deregulate digital education.

By Colin Woodard   cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

• KEY FINDINGS

PULLING THE STRINGS: Maine’s digital education agenda is being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to profit on the changes.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: The LePage administration has relied heavily on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, a conservative think tank, in writing policies to create taxpayer-funded virtual schools in Maine.

FOLLOW THE MONEY: This foundation and its top officials receive funding from online education companies, which will profit if the initiatives go forward.

REMOTE CONTROL: The foundation wrote much of the language in Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital learning, which embraces foundation policies.

BACKSTAGE MEETINGS: The secretive American Legislative Exchange Council — a corporate-backed political group for state legislators — developed digital learning legislation that was introduced by Maine lawmakers. Stephen Bowen (pictured) was a private-sector member until he was appointed education commissioner in Maine.

FAILING GRADES: Virtual schools have no classrooms, little or no in-person teaching and a poor track record compared to public schools. (Sidebar, A5)

CRITICS REACT: National education leaders say democratic governance is being superseded by corporate control.

Excerpt “[Maine's Education Commissioner] Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

“I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text of Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.

A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.

At stake is the future of thousands of Maine schoolchildren who would enroll in the full-time virtual schools and, if the companies had their way, the future of tens of thousands more who would be legally required to take online courses at their public high schools in order to receive their diplomas.

The two companies have at times acted directly, spending tens of thousands of dollars lobbying lawmakers in Augusta and nurturing the creation of the supposedly independent boards for the proposed virtual schools they would operate and largely control.”

Now consider my email conversation with Miami-Dade County Public School’s over what I believe is a huge, unnecessary and unethical multi-million dollar books purchase from Pearson (unethical because of the sub-standard quality of the books purchased, below the competitors and below the quality of the books already in possession from 4 years ago and still quite usable):

Ms. D A:

Regarding the new Pearson Chemistry book of which my first impression was/is still that it is deficient in readily accessible information for the serious chemistry class/student,

My neighbor chemistry teacher and I went through the Pearson Chemistry book a little more after school.  With some effort we found a periodic table in the text.  We also found an overly simplified qualitative solubility table (the limited Ksp table only occurs in the chapter on this subject), a limited table of the polyatomic ions and units & constants.

The point remains that the book is even further away from its predecessors in providing readily accessible quantitative information.  Historically, most chemistry books placed important tabular data and an easily accessible periodic table on the inside covers…assuming chemistry students would be doing chemistry problems.

The fact that they are NOT readily accessible and even challenging to find by motivated teachers suggests that the average student will never run across or use what sparse tabular data IS buried in the text.

Older chemistry teachers recognize the “watering down” of the curriculum.  Younger may not.  But even as recently as 2005, the Glencoe Merrill Chemistry Book was data rich for quantitative problems and labs.  The successor, Holt Modern Chemistry, was “watered down.”

This Pearson book seems to be even more “watered down.”

Add to this that the Holt Modern Chemistry books are still quite usable, one wonders what the driving force was to spend millions on such a weak and unnecessary chemistry book.  An associate and I counted $40,000 worth of these books in nearly new condition that are being removed.

Many of us are moving away from the print medium anyhow, because it is becoming more and more worthless and because of other sources of information -  the internet for tabular data, youtube for lecture homework, and google docs for collaboration and automation of data collection, analysis and reporting (psssst…that info is FREE).

Maybe instead of feeding the corporate educational monopoly Pearson millions of dollars for poor-quality books and curricular materials, we should invest that money in the teachers and classrooms instead and continue using the good materials that we have and put to work the high tech toys we’ve made so much public noise about (computers, Wi-Fi for all, laptops for all).

There is a larger picture here related to my last paragraph:

Pearson is under fire for shoddy, questionable curriculum production already:

“A question about a “talking pineapple” on a [Pearson produced] standardized reading test given to eighth-grade students in New York has sparked something of an uproar among students and adults who say it doesn’t make any sense. And because of all the fuss, now the state’s education commissioner says the question won’t be counted in students’ scores…The Daily News quoted a number of students and adults who looked at the whole reading sample and the questions and concluded that they make no sense… the strong likelihood [is] that other questions on these exams <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/the-complete-list-of-problems-with-high-stakes-standardized-tests/2011/10/31/gIQA7fNyaM_blog.html>  make little sense or actually assess only a small band-width of skills, concepts and knowledge that we want students to know.” – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/talking-pineapple-question-on-standardized-test-baffles-students/2012/04/20/gIQA8i01VT_blog.html

“Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott <http://www.nydailynews.com/topics/Michael+McDermott>  said the question has been used before and “confused students in six or seven different states.” And he had a quick answer to the question of who is the wisest: “Pearson for getting paid $32 million for recycling this crap.”"
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/talking-pineapple-question-state-exam-stumps-article-1.1064657

Google “pearson monopoly” and you will see even more questions about Pearson’s questionable performance and business dealings.

Here’s a few excerpts:

“Pearson…has had major problems. In 2010, Pearson paid a $15 million penalty to Florida for delivering test scores a month late and a $5 million fine to Wyoming after its online testing system malfunctioned. Oklahoma officials have been debating whether to terminate a $16 million contract because of scoring errors.

“Pearson has the worst track record of any firm in the industry over the past decade, possibly because they have expanded so rapidly,” said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest” – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/education/19winerip.html

“It is difficult to remember what part of American education has not been invaded by Pearson’s corporate grasp. It receives billions of dollars to test millions of students. Its scores will be used to calculate the value of teachers. It has a deal with the Gates Foundation to store all the student-level data collected at the behest of Race to the Top. It recently purchased Connections Academy, thus giving it a foothold in the online charter industry. And it recently added the GED to its portfolio.” http://dianeravitch.net/2012/05/07/the-united-states-of-pearson-2/

” Prentice-Hall is now a sub-division of Pearson and that The American Nation is now a Pearson publication?… Pearson <http://www.pearson.com/about-us/our-history/>  has been expanding voraciously and now controls what used to be the independent school textbook publishing companies Scotts Foreman <http://www.sfsocialstudies.com/index2.html> , Longman, Addison-Wesley, Allyn & Bacon, Silver, Burdette & Ginn, and the Macmillian Company, all in partnership with Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian Institute, the Discovery Channel, Mapquest, and Inspiration Software. Partnership in these cases generally means the other organizations get paid or donations to let Pearson use their names.” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/hacking-away-at-the-pears_b_1464134.html

Consider the national educators’ movement to boycott this FOR-PROFIT corporation that is wielding incredible sway over non-profit public education: http://unitedoptout.com/boycott-pearson-now/

Perhaps the answer to why we are purchasing millions of dollars in unneeded, under-quality textbooks has something to do with these stories?

“In recent years, the Pearson Foundation <http://www.pearsonfoundation.org/>  has paid to send state education commissioners to meet with their international counterparts in London, Helsinki, Singapore and, just last week, Rio de Janeiro.

The commissioners stay in expensive hotels, like the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore. They spend several days meeting with educators in these places. They also meet with top executives from the commercial side of Pearson <http://www.pearson.com/> , which is one of the biggest education companies in the world, selling standardized tests, packaged curriculums and…textbooks <http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/t/textbooks/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier> .

Pearson would not say which state commissioners have gone on the trips, but of the 10 whom I was able to identify, at least seven oversee state education departments that have substantial contracts with Pearson.” – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/education/19winerip.html

and “The state superintendent of education in Illinois – which has $138 million in contracts with Pearson – went to China, Brazil and Finland with the foundation.’ ‘Several who have participated in the international trips did not respond to requests for an interview, including the former commissioners Eric Smith of Florida (Helsinki); Kathy Cox of Georgia (Singapore); Susan Gendron of Maine (Helsinki); and a former deputy superintendent, Gavin Payne of California (Singapore).’ ‘States whose officials have attended Pearson conferences and also have contracts with Pearson include: Florida, to administer state tests; Virginia, to provide online courses; California, Georgia and Michigan, for teacher certification programs; Iowa, to develop eTranscript and portal systems; and South Dakota, to create alternate assessment tests for the disabled.’ ‘In the summer of 2010, Lu Young, the superintendent of schools in Jessamine County, a Lexington, Ky., suburb, took a trip to Australia paid for by the Pearson Foundation. Six months later, in Frankfort, Ky., Ms. Young sat on a committee interviewing executives from three companies bidding to run the state’s testing program. While CTB/McGraw-Hill submitted the lowest bid, by $2.5 million, Ms. Young and the other committee members recommended Pearson. In April, Kentucky’s Education Department approved a $57 million contract with Pearson. And then, over the next six months, the commissioner who oversees that department, Terry Holliday, traveled to both China and Brazil on trips underwritten by – that’s right – the Pearson Foundation.’” http://m.tcpalm.com/news/2012/may/07/sandra-reinhard-beware-corporations-lobbying/ quoting http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/education/inquiry-into-school-officials-travels-paid-for-by-pearson.html

The question of money and motives is raised higher by the realization that Pearson holds the contract for writing FCAT EOC exams through 2014…when they will immediately be made obsolete by the switch over to the NEW required PARCC exams (the switch to Common Core Standards):

“SB 736 mandates a standardized test for every subject taught by every school in the state by 2014.   These are the infamous new “end-of-course exams,” better known as EOCs, and NCS Pearson has the lucrative contract.”
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/04/2783911/whos-accountable-for-the-fcat.html

and
” The Item Development Invitation to Negotiate (ITN)…lays the foundation for the major components of the PARCC assessment system as it will procure the development of English language arts/literacy and mathematics items, tasks and related materials for the mid-year, performance-based, and end-of-year assessments. The procurement will generate a large bank of items to support the construction of assessments for grades 3-11 which will be given in PARCC states beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

“The procurement itself is an innovative document that presents a fresh approach to working with vendors” (like highly questionable Pearson), which

” the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) today announced they have awarded a contract to Pearson to develop a new Technology Readiness Tool to support states as they transition to next-generation assessments.” http://www.parcconline.org/press-release-new-technology-readiness-tool

So, while we buy millions of dollars of unnecessary, under-quality textbooks from Pearson, while we continue to pay millions of dollars for test authoring to Pearson which has been highly criticized for the tests it (recycles)/authors and also for its under-performance in analyzing and reporting the test results – tests which are already obsolete by our participation in Common Core Standards and PARCC assessments – we are going to award millions more to Pearson for its involvement in replacing the already obsolete EOC exams?

I think this kind of business dealings is reason enough, on top of the shoddy impact of the new book, to send them all back and get our money back.

Regards,

Shawn Beightol
Chemistry Instructor, MDCPS

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  • Lja11771

    I don’t even have books…….we have new ones….. but no Teacher’s Editions……This is not new for the this Neglected and Delinquent Program.

  • Lja11771

    I did not mean to minimize your concern….. but it is hard when more money is spent on personnel with no real job responsibilities…….the friends and family plan…..and for those of us who care to work without even textbooks. Why have books? nBTW…r computers did not have internet for 5 weeks. So it is hard for me to criticize the purchases…at least you have books.