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Pearson Draws Criticism From New York to Texas… Justified? Or Unjustified?

By on October 24, 2011
Domestic, Ethics, Faculty, For-Profit, K-12, Publishers & Curriculum, Required

by by Dave Dugdale via Flickr under CreativeCommons

Pearson LLC has been in the news a lot lately. Here is a round up of some of the articles.

Michael Winerip of The New York Times writes about how “Free Trips Raise Issues for Officials in Education,” focusing on the Pearson Foundation sending commissioners on free trips and whether it is an ethical policy. Here are some paragraphs and links to the two stories so far on the topic.

In recent years, the Pearson Foundation 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, which is one of the biggest education companies in the world, selling standardized tests, packaged curriculums and Prentice Hall textbooks.

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. For example, Illinois — whose superintendent, Christopher A. Koch, went to Helsinki in 2009 and to Rio de Janeiro — is currently paying Pearson $138 million to develop and administer its tests.

Via The New York Times

The education commissioners may also be violating state ethics laws. After I wrote about the conferences last month, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board opened an inquiry to determine whether the recent trip to Brazil by its commissioner, Jason E. Glass,violated state law.

Iowa has $3 million in contracts with Pearson. A spokeswoman for Dr. Glass said that he was “confident he abided by all legal and ethical rules” and that he was fully cooperating with the board.

At a time when state budgets are being cut, a free trip can look tempting. The first three years that Pearson financed the trips, no more than six commissioners attended any of them; last month, in Brazil, 12 were at the meeting.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa followed up on the investigation: http://thegazette.com/2011/09/27/complaint-alleges-iowa-education-chief-violated-ethics-law/
Meanwhile, the Pearson Foundation posted a response on it’s web site:

We categorically refute that suggestion, or any implication that our partnership with CCSSO is inappropriate. There is simply no factual basis for the suggestion that the Pearson Foundation’s support for the CCSSO International Education Summits is designed to win contracts for Pearson, nor that any contract was won as a result of the Summits. On the contrary, several chief state school officers have told the New York Times that the Summits had no such intent or outcome.

 …

Everyone from Education Secretary Arne Duncan on down understands the importance of knowing how American students are doing compared to their peers in other countries, and then learning from school leaders in high-performing nations.

These visits make it possible for our nation’s education leaders to engage in an exchange with their international counterparts, share experiences, and come home armed with new strategies and ideas to raise achievement, especially achievement for our most struggling students.

Regrettably, state and local education budgets could never provide the resources necessary for state chiefs and others to travel and collaborate in person with education ministers, reformers and innovators from Finland, Singapore, Brazil, or other nations who are more than willing to share their insights and best practices with us. If it were left to public funds, it simply wouldn’t happen, and the opportunity to improve our schools would be lost.

CCSSO plans the summit agendas, invites its members and other education leaders, and issues reports summarizing findings from the Summits. And, as those education officials who have attended the summits have recently attested in public statements, participants from all nations return home with a greater understanding of the challenges facing their students, and with fresh ideas and a reinvigorated will to take them on.

We vigorously contest both columns. And we deeply regret the possibility that they may undermine the good intentions and the good work of the education leaders who took part in these important professional exchanges.

If in the future they are inhibited from meeting with their international counterparts and applying the lessons learned in their own classrooms, then those who will be most harmed will be the students they serve.

Via Pearson Foundation

Meanwhile, Pearson is also drawing fire in Texas as Abby Rapoport writes a critical article  (Sept. 6, 2011) in The Texas Observer titled, “Education Inc.: How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.”

Pearson is a London-based mega-corporation that owns everything from the Financial Times to Penguin Books, and also dominates the business of educating American children. The company promotes its many education-related products on a website that features an idyllic, make-believe town. It’s called Pearsonville, and it looks like the international conglomerate version of SimCity. In this virtual town, school buses whizz through tree-lined streets, and the city center features skyscrapers and a tram. Tabs pop up to show you just how many Pearson products are available. A red schoolhouse features young kids using Pearson products to learn math (with Pearson’s enVision Math) and take standardized tests online. Nearby, at the Pearsonville high school, students use the company’s online instructional materials to study science. The high school also features online testing. Pearson online courses are available at the town library. At the model home, parents can use Pearson’s student information system to track their children’s grades. The “test centre,” not shockingly, provides even more testing options. It’s a beautiful little town. A Las Vegas-style sign welcomes you, while a biplane flies through the sky trailing a Pearson banner behind it.

Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams. If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass. Meanwhile, kids are likely to use textbooks from Pearson-owned publishing houses like Prentice Hall and Pearson Longman. Students who want to take virtual classes may well find themselves in a course subcontracted to Pearson. And if the student drops out, Pearson partners with the American Council on Education to offer the GED exam for a profit.

“Pearson basically becomes a complete service provider to the education system,” says David Anderson, an Austin education lobbyist whose clients include some of Pearson’s competitors.

….

In 1998, Pearson hired a new CEO from Texas, Marjorie Scardino. She joined a company with a diverse and haphazard set of interests; in addition to the Financial Times and Penguin Books, the mega-company owned everything from Madame Tussauds wax museums to a stake in investment bank Lazard. Scardino sought to focus the company on one broad industry—education. Soon after Scardino’s arrival, Pearson bought Simon & Schuster’s education businesses and opened a new, overarching company—Pearson Education. Two years later, in a controversial move, Pearson acquired the Minnesota-based testing company National Computer Systems for $2.5 billion and began expanding into assessments. By 2004, Scardino ranked 59th on Forbes’ list of the “100 Most Powerful Women in the World.” By 2009, she was 19th.

Her timing was excellent. The education field was facing new and vehement demand for more testing and accountability in schools. Texas had been leading the way in state-mandated standardized testing, and by the time Pearson acquired National Computer Systems in 2000, the company had already signed a $233 million contract with the Lone Star State. With the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, all states were required to use a standard test to determine how students were learning. Pearson continued buying testing companies, including the testing services division of Harcourt. Last year, Pearson signed yet another contract with Texas to create the latest iterations of the state’s testing system, the new and more rigorous “end-of-course” and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams.

Pearson now creates the tools to grade the tests and the software to analyze student performance. That’s in addition to textbooks, remedial learning resources, GED courses and online classes. (Pearson officials refused comment for this story.)

But despite Pearson’s prevalence in nearly every sector of public education, state officials say they maintain oversight. The Texas Education Agency monitors Pearson’s test development and often works side-by-side with the company. Gloria Zyskowski, the deputy associate commissioner, says the agency communicates with Pearson almost daily. She says that TEA uses a transparent bidding process to contract the work and follows a strict series of steps to build and score the tests. In creating test questions, the agency recruits teachers and former teachers to sit on an advisory committee. Pearson employees facilitate advisory committees, but the company isn’t writing the test questions by itself.

But when the company—like many for-profits—wants to get its way in education policy, Pearson isn’t shy about deploying high-powered lobbyists. Pearson pays six lobbyists to advocate for the company’s legislative agenda at the Texas Capitol—often successfully. This legislative session, lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education, including funding for a variety of programs to help struggling students improve their performance on state tests. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact. Bills that would have reduced the state’s reliance on tests didn’t pass. The Texas Senate refused to pass any bills that would have diminished the role of testing, a stance some Capitol sources attribute to Pearson’s lobbying, while others give the credit to pressure from reform advocates.

Who’s responsible may not matter. The interests of corporate lobbyists and reform advocates are often the same.  It’s difficult to separate the businessmen from the believers.

What do you think of the concerns over Pearson’s influence in a state like Texas? Is it better to have one major provider like them? Is it normal for publicly-traded companies to maximize profits and improve education while doing so? Or should states like Texas be wary?

Meanwhile, as a final piece of our round-up, here is another NYT story about Pearson’s plan to move offices and employees from New Jersey to Manhattan… reaping a host of tax benefits:

The educational media company, a division of the corporation, based in London, that publishes The Financial Times, said Monday that it would move about 650 jobs to Manhattan from suburban offices in New Jersey and Westchester County. Some of the cost of moving will be offset by at least $13.5 million, and possibly as much as $50 million, in tax breaks and other incentives offered by city and state agencies in New York.

City officials framed the arrangement as a victory over New Jersey officials, who have been offering large packages of financial incentives to attract and retain big employers. But just last week, New Jersey agreed to provide $82 million in cost savings to Pearson, which plans to take more than 1, 200 jobs out of Upper Saddle River, N.J., by 2014 and send more than 600 of them to Hoboken, N.J. One of the stated reasons for New Jersey’s largess was to keep all those jobs from going to Manhattan.

So, to recap: Pearson could receive as much as $132 million in incentives for deciding to move half its Upper Saddle River jobs to Manhattan and the other half to Hoboken. But the net gain in jobs for the New York metropolitan area would be close to zero. And still, officials on both sides of the Hudson River seemed quite pleased with the deals they had struck.

 



15 Comments

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Teri Clifford
Jan 7, 2012

Please continue to research this company!!! I am a kindergarten teacher in Fort Worth, Texas. After emailing our concerns over the new standardized tests in Texas to members of the State Board of Education, we received this reply:

I was unable to open the link attached to your email. However, I have no hesitation in telling you that as an educator myself and a member of the State Board of Education that I am opposed to the onerous testing that has totally consumed effective teaching and learning in our state. Also–and without hesitation–that the testing morass in which we are trapped is completely controlled by Pearson Publishing, the single company which publishes TAKS and now STAAR/EOC. They own education in our state and, in many instances, the votes of members of the Texas Legislature. In the school year 2000/01 Pearson was paid, by the Texas’ taxpayer, 48 million dollars. Five years later, at the end of a five year contract, Pearson was paid 58 million dollars. That five year contract grossed Pearson 260 million dollars. Last school year–2010/11, Pearson was paid 91 million dollars. That was the year of budget cuts, teacher furloughs and facility closings. At the end of the current five year contract period, 2010-2015, Pearson will have realized a gross income of 469 million dollars. Pearson gets paid even if teachers do not. Follow the money and you will find where our education dollars go and who benefits from the most from those dollars. You will not find teachers. You will not find students. You will not find parents. You will not find effective teaching and learning. You will find Pearson and legislators. I hope you do not mind my frank conversation.

Thank you!

Angela LeRoy
Jan 7, 2012

I would be interested to know if Pearson (in any of its forms) contributes to any campaigns for our elect officials. How could I find that out?

Wired Academic
Jan 16, 2012

Hi Ms. Clifford, Thank you for your comment. Could you email the full email?

Teri Clifford
Jan 17, 2012

I included the entire email sans the signature.

Conny Jensen
Apr 26, 2012

Texas Parents
Apr 26, 2012

Here’s another important article concerning Pearson, Governor Rick Perry and a man named Sandy Kress.

http://jasonstanford.org/2012/03/staar-chamber/#comment-1960

Elizabeth
Apr 26, 2012

It is obvious as a parent to children in the Texas Public school system that we are fighting a losing battle with Pearson. They have taken over our children’s education and will continue to do so until the legislation says “NO!”. I doubt this will happen in a time where my children will see it. My 4th grade daughter, who has generalized anxiety disorder has been in a complete frenzy over this test. Teachers are desperate for them to make great scores on these tests and they convey this in the way they pressure them to get prepared for the test. I feel sorry for the teachers, who are forced to” teach a test” a all year rather than truly teach our children. It makes me sick to think I am paying for this ridiculous testing. It makes me even more irate that I have no rights as a parent to say no. I was told by the TEA and by the testing coord. in our district (Columbia-Brazoria) that my ONLY right as a parent, when it came to the test was to either send my child to school or not. I kept my anxiety riddled child home Monday and received a total of 4 panicked calls from the school looking for her. Starting next year, my children will both be in “pass or fail” years (5th and 8th grade) where if they do not pass the test, they fail the year. No matter their grades on the report card. This seems silly, to base my child’s education on how well they take a 4 hour standardized test that is designed to trick our children, they fail….the districts have to buy remedial learning tools and tutors from PEARSON. Public school systems are now only about money and this saddens me greatly.

Lara
Apr 26, 2012

The above information is absolutely 100% the truth. Deeply embedded in NCLB is the right for ‘for-profit’ corporations and shadow education industries to take federal, state, and district funding if schools/districts do not make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). The percentages to meet the standards of AYP are gradually increasing and will be at 100% of all students in all socioeconomic and demographic groups meeting state accountability standards by 2013-2014 school year.

Although I am glad that there is accountability on the forefront on closing the learning and performance discrepancies among diverse demographic/socioeconomic groups of students, the gradual increase in accountability is unobtainable, most especially with the drastic cuts in funding (and of course what funding is left now partially gets distributed to these for-profit organizations!) Schools with higher poverty/minority rates are feeling the consequences/punishments required by NCLB and those with lower poverty/minority rates will avoid consequences for a little longer.

These companies are LITERALLY buying our politicians and eagerly provide much monetary backing for our politicians to create mandates and additional legalities that promote the use of their companies in public education.

If the public does NOT get a handle on what is going on (with these powerhouse organizations and the skewed information on school choice) the public school system is about to implode and the progress made toward the desegregation of schools is about to diminish.

Be vocal. Stand up for our children and for the future of our country! Education IS the hope for our future!

Mary Beth Lee
Apr 26, 2012

“Is it normal for publicly-traded companies to maximize profits and improve education while doing so?”

I challenge the assertion that Pearson is doing anything to improve education. In large part, today’s students struggle with critical thinking and problem solving skills, and their writing abilities have suffered greatly under the tyranny of the test. I’m all for a free market system where companies make profits, but not when that profit comes at the expense of generations of students in the public education system.

Liz
Apr 29, 2012

On January 21, 2011, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) received your request for public information. The TEA has included responsive data within the body of this email, and a copy of your original request is included in the string below. Additionally, there are no charges for fulfilling this request and PIR 14637 (Brown) is considered closed. 

Responsive Information: 

The State of Texas Student Assessment costs for 2010-2011 school year is $90,665,041.00 and the total amount will be paid to Pearson.  The amount for the State of Texas Student Assessment contract for 2010-2015 is $468,392,617.00 and again, the total amount will be paid to Pearson.

Please note that you have another open request with the Student Assessment Division, PIR 14681 (Brown), which is currently being processed and for which we will provide a written response to you on or before February 10, 2011.  If you have other requests with the TEA, they have not been assigned to the Student Assessment Division, and you may choose to confirm the status of those requests by writing to pir@tea.state.tx.us.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss PIR 14637 (Brown) further, please contact me at (512) 463-9536 or by email at pir@tea.state.tx.us.

Sincerely,

Jennifer J Eaton
TEA Public Information Coordinator
Enclosure:
Original Request, below
 

This is my response received from Texas Education Agrncy in 2011 following a public information request on the expense of state mandated testing in TX. One superintendent posted on Texasisd.com that 15,000 teachers’ salaries were sacrificed on the altar of state testing with this expense. Texas State Rep. Dan Flynn filed an amendment on HB 2491 calling for a 2 year moratorium on state testing so the monies could be spent to hire and retain quality teachers. I was told the Senate chairwoman of the Education Committee struck it from the bill. Obviously she was more concerned about Pearson than TX teachers.

http://musicindustrycareers.org/music-industry-careers/"
Jun 28, 2012

Thanks I have been searching for more data on the subject discussed in this post. again thanks.

Elizabeth
Oct 30, 2012

Please consider joining Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) –
https://www.facebook.com/tamsatx

The only way to change the system is to unite our voices.

Gregg
Sep 25, 2013

I am proud that colonialism continues as it has for 500 years! Fire more teachers Texas and fill stadiums with test-taking zombies. Soon we will have droves of media-filled idiots roaming for work. And Pearson standing over them reaching out a helping hand for salvation. So much for progress.. London rules!

I am glad we can homeschool with Robinsons curriculum.

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[…] to this stable market.  And do not forget major corporations like Pearson which has become the Goliath in educational products including the scoring tests  in both the UK and U.S. […]

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