Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Profits or passing grades?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 12:14 PM

One of the most common complaints that many teachers and principals make against education reformers is what they commonly refer to as the privatization of public education. It’s a phrase that can take on many different meanings and is often dismissed as little more than a conspiracy theory. 

But federal and state governments spend billions annually on public education, and it’s not surprising that corporations see opportunities. Politico.com has an interesting investigative piece on the profits of Pearson, a British publishing company.

Roughly half of the company's profits come from Pearson's growth in the tumultuous US education market. From products and services ranging from online learning to the newer Common Core curriculum standards, Pearson is getting fat off of US taxpayers.

Maybe that doesn’t deserve much scrutiny, since Pearson is simply taking advantage of a capitalist system. But more troubling is how Pearson benefits from a group-think mentality among some law and policy makers. According to Politico, Pearson is getting contracts on non-competitive bids from Florida to Texas, and worse, the company isn’t penalized when it falls short of its objectives.

For instance, when Pearson was hired by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to install a new student data system, Politico says, the job was so problematic that the state had to shell out extra millions to get the company to fix it.

And then there’s the question of Pearson’s access to students' personal information and how that information is being used.

The crisis in public education, particularly in urban schools, has created a tidal wave of remedies that lawmakers are eager to implement: high-stakes testing, vouchers, merit pay for teachers, and lifting the cap on charter schools to name a few.

While some lawmakers including Governor Andrew Cuomo complain about the influence of teacher unions, we shouldn't be naive. Companies like Pearson are pouring money into marketing and lobbying efforts to get their message out to lawmakers and expand their profits.

But are their products improving education outcomes? 

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