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The Art of Teaching Science: Pearson Just Saved Us $82 Million: Where’s the Money?

Field Test Locations for the PARCC Field Tests Given to One Million Students. Source of map; PARCC Website. Extracted May 5, 2014
Field Test Locations for the PARCC Field Tests Given to One Million Students. Source of map; PARCC Website. Extracted May 5, 2014

According to an Education Week article by Sean Cavanagh, Pearson won a the major contract with PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) to develop test items, delivery of paper-and-pencil and computerized test forms, reporting of the results, analysis of scores, and to “work” with the states to develop “cut scores.”

Nearly everyone thought that Pearson would nail the contract.  However, according to ED Week, Pearson was the only bidder!

And Pearson gave PARCC a real deal.  Instead of charging the expected $29.50 per student, they agreed to come down to $24.   But, here is the real deal, there are 15 million students in the PARCC states.

$442 million – $360 million = $82 million

At $29.50 per student, the estimated cost (of just the test material and computer analysis) for 15 million students in PARCC states, would be $442 million.  But since Pearson agreed to such a lower cost, knowing full well that PARCC was a cash cow, it agreed to $24 per student, meaning it would only cost the states $360 million.

That’s a savings of $82 million.  But, where’s the money?

There are 16 states and the District of Columbia that belong to the PARCC consortium.  PARCC was one of two consortia funded by the U.S. Department of Education as part of its Race to the Top (RT3) Fund. The RT3 set aside $362 million to fund consortia to develop assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  In 2010, PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (21 states) were awarded nearly $165 million each for develop assessments.

According to the Smarter Balanced website, its assessments will cost about $27.30 per student.

Member states of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  Source: Smarter Balanced Website.

Member states of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Source: Smarter Balanced Website.

The PARCC states also represent 8 of the 12 winners of the Race to the Top (according to the Achieve website).  It’s estimated that about 15 million students live in PARCC states. Smarter Balanced states represent 4 of the 12 winners, and its estimated about 19 million students live in Smarter Balanced states.

Now, back to the Pearson contract with PARCC.

The Single Contract Trend

Imagine having a single contract with that many clients!  Imagine that your company is not only developing the tests, but also is developing multimedia textbooks for these 15 million students that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English/language arts.  So, its possible that states in the PARCC consortium might decide to buy ONLY Pearson multimedia textbooks in math and English/language arts, and to tell local districts that if they don’t adopt Pearson multimedia books, then they will not receive state textbook funds.

This no doubt will happen.  It already has happened in Louisiana.  In that case, the issue is not with Pearson, but it clearly shows that using a single vendor is something that states will do.  Over on Crazy Crawfish’s Blog, he reports on Louisiana’s Textbook Selection Shenanigans, and explains that the Louisiana Department of Education has only one vendor for math (Eureka Math) and only Core Knowledge for language arts.  The story reported by Jason France, author of Crazy Crawfish reveals how a few decision makers at the Department of Education can create a monolithic and authoritarian environment in the selection of teaching materials.  In Louisiana, John White, the Superintendent of education, has taken it upon himself to choose which texts can be used with the Common Core.  He was a former employee of Teach for America, and assistant to Joel Klein, former New York City Chancellor, and charter school director in NYC.  Now he is asserting his authority in the world of textbook choice.

Here is how this stuff happens.  Jason France, in his own words:

John White (Superintendent of Education, Louisiana) has only selected a single vendor that is complaint with his rigorous standards. One is the patent holder of Common Core, which shares the patent with CCSSO, an organization John White and Holly Boffy worked for when they are not being Superintendent and BESE members for Louisiana. The other is Core Knowledge which was bought by Rupert Murdoch and is run by two folks he used to work for in New York City. (France, Jason. “Louisiana’s Texbook Selection Shenanigans.” Crazy Crawfishs Blog. N.p., 4 May 2014. Web. 05 May 2014).

Pearson: America’s Walmart of Education Materials

Pearson is a British multinational publishing company, and according to published reports, it is the largest education company and the largest book publisher in the world.  The Pearson board of directors is composed of seven men and three woman.  You can see them here.

Pearson publishes pre K-12 curriculum, testing and software.  They have products that are aligned to the Common Core including Pearson Early Learning, Pearson Digital Learning, and Family Education Network.

Pearson publishes elementary (Pearson Scott Foresman) and secondary (Pearson Prentice Hall) in reading, literature, maths, science, and social studies.

The corporate led assault on education is at play in the latest deal made between PARCC, a Washington D.C. group, and Pearson, the multinational publisher.  It’s a sweet deal for these two corporations.

But it’s not a sweet deal for those who believe in public schools.

The concoction that has been produced by the mixing of high-stakes testing and the world’s largest multimedia company is a recipe for disaster.  Buried deep in the contract is the statement that Pearson will work with the PARCC states to decide the “cut-off” scores that determine whether you pass or fail the assessments.  There is absolutely no scientific basis for this.  It is a pure opinion.  However, it reeks of manipulation.

Large corporations are trying to get in line to come in and fix schools that are considered failures by the men who set the “cut off” scores.  Failing schools are also labeled turnaround schools, and there are specific policies in play that outline how failing schools should be fixed.  Corporations such as Pearson, Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, and charter schools are eager to come in and use public funds to fill their own coffers.  The relationship among these groups is documented here.

I asked at the beginning if the Pearson deal with PARCC resulted in real savings.  Of course it doesn’t.  It means that another EDU-CORP has positioned itself to reap the benefits of the reformers calling card which says: America’s Schools are Failing: We’re Here to Help.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 6.53.40 PM

How did this happen?  Why is it that the playing field has been tilted in favor of corporations, and foundations with lots of money.  Here is how it happened.  Listen to the words of John Kuhn, superintendent and acclaimed educator and author of Fear and Learning in America.  He says:

How can it be that so many Americans are simultaneously satisfied with the public schools their children attend and dissatisfied with American schools in general? Their opinion of their children’s school— based on their experiences with the school itself, its people, its facilities, and its programs— is overwhelmingly positive. But where do they get their negative opinion of all those other schools, the ones that are “out there,” that they’ve never seen but have scary mental pictures of?

With pundits, politicians, journalists, and the murmuring class all repeating the party line that “our schools are failing” since 1983, is it any wonder? When former DC superintendent and perennial school reform superstar Michelle Rhee has her well-funded political group run an advertisement during the Olympics “featuring a disheveled athlete trying and failing to effectively compete,” purporting to highlight “the struggles of America’s education system and its challenges competing internationally,” is it any wonder (“ Michelle Rhee appears,” 2012)?

When famed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim makes a huge splash with an unashamedly propagandistic film that selectively portrays public schools in a harsh light and portrays hand-picked charter schools in pastels, contending that they alone will save America from its disastrous public schools, is it any wonder?  Kuhn, John (2014-02-15). Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education (Teaching for Social Justice Series) (Kindle Locations 798-808). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

High-stakes testing, which has been in the hands of corporate America for years, and now poses an even greater risk to children and youth because we have enabled the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with a few corporations to cut the curriculum to a few subjects, and make it more difficult for students, especially ethnic and racial minorities, and low socioeconomic status to pass these tests.

What did you think when you heard that Pearson got the contract to develop the Common Core tests?

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordina...