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Education Reform Is the Best Stock on the Market

And don't forget to look at Pearson's track record. Their lates snafu (among many) is that they can't even deliver accurate protractors for a math test in Wyoming.

Danny Weil Comment: You are right, parents, students and community members must come to terms with what it means to be 'educated.' Until this happens, the agenda will revert to the numerologists looking to make a fast buck on our kids while controlling the curriculum from 'surveillance watch towers,' the panopticon of learning!

by George Thompson

Numerous corporations such as Microsoft and ETS (Education Testing Service) use philanthropy to influence education policies in such a way as to create demands for their products. To take but one example of how this works, consider how Pearson PLC, is expanding its current markets through the push for national standards. After increasing profits by 46% at the height of the recession, based largely on its stake in the burgeoning school improvement industry, Pearson is now in a position to profit even more from Obama's push for common state standards in math and reading, according to CEO, Marjorie Scardino.

The Wall Street Journal explains that "The implementation of core standards would reduce the burden Pearson faces in adapting materials to individual state requirements. It could also open up an opportunity for Pearson to win a new contract measuring the progress of that common-standards initiative."

Pearson also plans to cash in on Obama's "Race to the Top," which will require "Data systems that measure student success" which, according to Scardino is "one of Pearson's key areas."

Pearson, like other for-profit education corporations has been far from a passive recipient of its lucrative education contracts. It actively uses its tax-free philanthropy funding to finance research, policy papers and other media which push for government reforms that both heighten competition for "achievement" and the need to for tools to measure it, which they just happen to sell.

As one can see from a Pearson news release in late 2009, the global media company is now pressuring state governments for precisely the national reforms such as the common core standards that will benefit their own bottom line most. The release begins, with a useful mantra which requires no justification, only repetition: "Education reform is a national priority." As a result of this supposed priority, "Pearson, the education, services and technology company, is stimulating discussions of school reform issues with today's launch of a series of video interviews with nationally recognized education leader David Driscoll, Ed.D. The company's Evaluation Systems group, the most experienced provider of standards-based teacher certification testing programs, developed these thought-provoking videos with the former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education to contribute to the national conversation on the most effective ways to improve student achievement." http://www.pearsoned.com/pr_2009/122309.htm

It seems Pearson has in one way or another partnered with Driscoll, who not only holds a great deal of reputation-clout based on his former role as former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, but also is even more influential at policy tables as "the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress: The Nation's Report Card." Thus, while the news release uses Driscoll's role at NAGB to lend an aura of impartiality to their advocacy of national standards, it is also a sign of considerable backdoor policy influence that the company is able to use a government leader to advertise its position.

Not mentioned is the fact that Driscoll is also a trustee at the Fordham Institute which proudly through its philanthropy sponsors charter schools, which are, in the long run going to be a very lucrative industry for Fordham's business sponsors, such as the Gates, Walton (Wal-Mart) and Hoover foundations, all of whom are heavily invested in the charter movement and profitable school competition.

What policies are promoted in Driscoll's videos? Firstly, it wants to follow Driscoll's lead in Massachusetts, where "The key to our successâ€Â¦was not just student testing, but also teacher licensure testing. The thing that made the biggest difference in Massachusetts was ratcheting up teacher standards." Of course, Pearson just happens to be a world leader in the delivery of teacher testing services. Indeed, pressure to "ratchet up" teacher standard will mean more money for quality measurement (ie. teacher testing) and a lot more money for professional development, a field which Pearson already dominates, especially through its delivery of online teacher upgrading materials.

A big part of the Driscoll videos is the promotion of national standards, and a parallel expansion of such standards to teachers:

In the video, 'Education and the Future,' Driscoll talks about the potential effect on teachers of the current movement toward common, national standards for student achievement. 'As common standards are established across the country and we raise expectations for students, in most states, they are going to have to raise the expectations of teacher skills and knowledge.'

The Pearson Foundation itself is also a very active player in "donating" funds towards initiatives calculated to drive up demand for their own products. Pearson is a world leader in education delivery centered around the use of mobile digital devices, such as cell phones, television, video games, smart devices, and computers. To this end, Pearson has funded research which conveniently demonstrates the value of what it calls "emergent literacy." The research says:

Opportunities to engage with digital media increasingly prevail through the use of mobile devices -- and in developing countries access to mobile devices is more commonplace than access to other technologies

Developmental milestones are changing as young people's access to mobile and digital technology grows.

Digital media positively impacts children's opinion of learning, providing engagement opportunities not always seen with print materials.

Thus, while most teachers see mobile electronic devices as a major obstacle to student focus within the learning environment, Pearson-promoted studies use foundation money to press the need for "Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children's Learning."

Pearson also promotes policies with papers on a wide variety of issues that relate directly to other profitable activities. For example, Pearson's response [pdf file] to the Race to the Top is based around the corporation's expanding line of data-warehousing products for tracking student progress and recording interventions in relation to test performance:

In many ways the future of assessment has nothing to do with the assessments themselves. If we are to achieve the common goals of education reform (improved learning, increased college readiness and true international competitiveness), we must design a learning system that uses assessment data as one component of a much broader and comprehensive information management model. Such a learning system must start with the premise that our fundamental objective is to facilitate personalized instruction and early interventions so that we prepare each student to compete in a global economy and thrive in a global society. This new student-centered learning system must use technology to reduce the burden on educators, students, parents, and the public. It must facilitate the flow of information for timely instructional interventions and continuous improvement to remove current barriers to student success.

Another key area of expansion for Pearson will be that of broader assessments, often called "benchmark assessments." Whereas ETS dominates the summative state-wide testing industry, the market for all the pre-assessments (also called "interim" or "formative" assessments) which can be used along the way to prepare students for such tests is infinitely expanding. Thus, Pearson policy reports include research which advocates for "carefully designed tools [which] make data-driven decisions possible, provide clear reflection and improve day-to-day teaching and learning in the classroom."

Indeed, the possibilities are great for Pearson to effectively take over control of entire education systems through its expansion to high-stakes data-surveillance on which both teachers̢۪ livelihoods and students fates will be decided. The PASeries will "Measure instructional effectiveness in reading, writing, algebra, and mathemactics using PASeries progress and diagnostic assessments with scientifically based year-end achievement forecasts."

Another product, the Stanford Learning First system, also gives us clear indication of the extent to which Pearson's promotion of assessment will ultimately give it control over entire education systems:

Stanford Learning First can be described as comprehensive, by including both summative and formative assessments; coherent and integrated, through its horizontal alignment to standards and vertical alignment to the goals and structure of education systems; and continuous, by using multiple periodic assessments to track student achievement. Stanford Learning First clearly has an important role to play in the development of complete assessment systems.

It is instructive to look at Pearson's policy guidance on the so-called "narrowing of curriculum" and "teaching to the test" which has been observed by many to have resulted from the high-stakes testing on math and literacy that as swept the globe in recent years. Pearson's solution has not in any way to been to suggest a "lowering" of the stakes or the removal of such high-stakes testing altogether, but rather to call for more and better assessment which will need to be purchased from Pearson. Thus, the report concludes [pdf file]

In the current era of accountability, curriculum narrowing is the latest challenge
facing the education system. Frequently, the accountability assessments mandated
by NCLB are identified as the source of this issue. However, accountability
assessments are intended to be one source of data about what students know and
are able to do. Many other sources of information are necessary to build a
complete understanding of a student's abilities. Proponents of accountability
assessments do not suggest that a high-stakes decision be made based on one and
only one piece of evidence. Test results are a single point of evidence that, when
added to other pieces, help students, parents, and teachers understand what a
student knows and can do. Because a single assessment result is not necessarily
reflective of a student's abilities, many state assessment programs allow students
multiple opportunities to succeed on the annual accountability assessment.

Assessments must be understood as tools that are only useful when used correctly.

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a company being more dialled in to the profits to be made from government funded education. Pearson even offers for-profit services in helping companies strategically apply for Race to the Top funding. The "Pearson Resources for Grants and Funding" reminds us that "Funds + Resources = Success," Pearson also facilitates applications for NCLB funding for poverty (Title I), technology (EETT) and School Improvement. In other words, the complexity of school application processes is such that Pearson can become a virtual gate-keeper for government funding.

As mentioned in earlier, Pearson is only one of many high-stakes players in this game of "raising the bar" and "closing the gap" for an ever greater accountability which is to be extracted from public funding in the name of "school improvement." What is more disconcerting is the extent to which we have allowed public education to be effectively controlled by the education improvement industry and the accountability measurement organizations. Readers of previous articles in Daily Censored have been made well aware of the complex web of partnerships between for-profit organizations and non-profits, non-governmental organizations, research agencies, think-tanks, front groups, foundations, mass media controllers and politicians. This network holds a mafia-like grip over the government production of education policy which can only be broken by popular demand for an education system that is entirely government owned and operated and one that is driven by the principle of equality rather than "targeted" funding. Until the general population is made aware of how school improvement and accountability that serves it are being used to subvert their power over education, it seems likely that policy will continue to be dominated by reform's fundamentally anti-democratic agenda.

— George Thompson
Daily Censored


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