Pearson executives work hard to justify the company’s actions and frame their motives as some sort of kindness – almost a humanitarian effort. The trouble is, more and more people are convinced they are in it only for the money.
Pearson’s tagline “Always Learning” has been co-opted by those unhappy with its reach, to say “Always Earning” – understandable when the company is taking over everything from text books, to tests, to teacher certification and now owning its own schools. Its tentacles go far and wide, like a leviathan.
Yesterday SOSNZ took part in a Twitterstorm focused on Pearson Plc’s dubious behaviour around education. The protest was timed to coincide with Pearson’s AGM in London, and I was honoured to represent NZ alongside the UK and USA is spreading the word about the company’s behaviour.
At the AGM, Pearson executives had to face questions about the company’s behaviour in promoting and running for-profit schools in some of the poorest places on earth, where the daily rate to attend can be as much as half of a family’s income. As if charging such a high rate of such poor people was not bad enough, the lessons are on tablets and must be read word-for-word by the teacher at a pace set by the app not the teacher (tough if you have a question or need to pause for any good reason). All this to classrooms crammed with 60-200 children.
A joint letter from National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and Global Justice Now, delivered to the Pearson CEO John Fallon at the AGM, read:
“From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the “test and punish” efforts in the global north, to supporting the predatory, “low-fee” for-profit private schools in the global south, Pearson’s brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education.”
The USA’s voice was also heard:
“We fight this kind of profit making to get kids a good education and fight for governments which gives students a high quality education.”
said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who had flown to London to attend the AGM and be heard.
As well as pushing privatised schooling, there have been many and repeated concerns about the role of Pearson’s in promoting high stakes testing, notably in the USA. Concerns have centred around the quality of the tests, the secrecy around them, the fact that markers are found via Craigslist and need have no educational training, and the scandal of Pearson monitoring students’ online activity for mention of the tests,
It’s shocked many to discover Pearson are not beyond tracking down a student and reporting them to the school authorities to deal with – all for Tweeting about a test. The fact that they misrepresented the student’s actions by getting the timing and the content of the Tweet wrong is of huge concern. A multinational company chasing down one student all based on incorrect information. Big Brother would be proud.
Regarding Pearson’s infiltration of all things education, Schools Week UK reports that ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said
“School curricula should not be patented and charged for. Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed.
“Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people.”
Indeed. When the education ship is being steered by those concerned mainly with profit, it is seriously off course and in danger of sinking, taking our children’s education with it.
Sources and further reading:
Everybody hates Pearson – Fortune
There are many reasons teachers fight standardised testing: they are not a good use of learning time, they lead to teaching to the test, results are not always reliable, and they cost a fortune.
But even beyond that, the craziness of the whole standardised testing system can be no better explained than by Bob Braun’s latest blog post about the Pearson company’s dubious behaviour.
Bob considers Pearson’s insistence that in monitoring students’ online activity it is working only in the interests of test security (i.e. to prevent cheating), and he shares this with us. But is that the full picture, asks Bob?
“Here is what the State of New Jersey and Pearson agreed encompassed the idea of security and its possible breach–it’s codified in the testing manual developed by the state and sent out to all the districts:
“Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication.””
Let me run that by you again… students are not even allowed to talk about a test afterwards. To anyone.
“How did the test go, dear?”
“I can’t tell you, mum, or I’ll have Pearson contacting the Department of Education to send the principal down here”
“But did it go okay, dear?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny the test went okay, mum, please stop asking”
“Do you think you passed?”
“MUM! Are you trying to get me suspended? … I’m taking the fifth.”
Read more over at Bob Braun’s Ledger.
Kiwis, thank your lucky stars we do not have this madness here … and please help us keep it that way by supporting teachers,unions and fighting the monstrosity that is the TPPA.
Trying to get to the bottom of what, if anything, students sign to promise non-disclosure of Pearson’s exam content, I was pointed towards this form…
I have so many questions, such as does a parent signing this legally bind their child to the agreement? And what if a parent is not able to read and comprehend that contract? Do parents really understand fully what they are signing? Does every student/parent get a copy of the PTE Test Taker handbook to peruse? … and so on.
But what I want to ask most of all is this…
And who ensures that data is safe?
What we know so far:
Pearson monitors students’ and others’ social media for mention of Pearson, its tests, etc.
It then finds a student has Tweeted about a PARCC test they had just completed.
The Tweet didn’t have a photo of the test.
The student had not signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Pearson work out what school the student goes to.
Pearson alert the education department about the ‘priority 1 item breach’, asking it to be dealt with.
The education department contact the testing coordinator at the student’s school.
The information passed on says the Tweet was done during the test and had a photo attached: It did not.
The student was contacted and deleted the Tweet.
The student’s parent was talked to.
The parent was very concerned to find their child’s social media had been monitored this way.
Bob Braun wrote a piece about the affair.
Bob’s blog suffers a Denial of Service (DoS) attack by unknown hacktivist/s.
People discuss Pearson’s use of Tracx to “monitor and listen” to what people are saying about them on social media.
Tracx gets their Pearson page taken down.
Pearson put out a press release saying they behaved perfectly responsibly….
Sources and further reading:
Tracx and Pearson (This is a cached copy, in case it’s still down)
Bob Braun on Twitter
Bob Braun on Facebook
There’s a growing outrage after reports today that Pearson Publishing have been spying on students. It is also reported that Pearson is working with some US education departments to censure students who have discussed tests on social media after taking them. Pearson apparently likes to call this ‘listening and monitoring‘.
I have some questions:
No doubt more will unfold on this.
US parents, if your child is harassed regarding test-taking, opting out, or anything relating to tests, you may wish to file a civil rights complaint.
Kiwi parents and teachers, if you are are thinking this doesn’t affect you, remember two things:
* all Kiwi kids have a National Student Number from the day they enter the education system, and
* the TPPA will allow companies to sue countries that they feel infringe on their trade…
Welcome to the loony world of Education Reform.
A warning to those countries (like NZ) that are getting ever more enamoured with the idea of testing.
The Network for Public Education (NPE)’s first National Conference closed with a call for Congressional hearings to investigate the over-emphasis, misapplication, costs, and poor implementation of high-stakes standardized testing.
Two of the eleven areas the NPE has asked to be looked into are:
Testing worldwide has always been part of schooling, and was primarily an in-house, in-class affair that is done, reviewed and acted on by the teacher under the guidance of their team and principal so that the teacher knew what to help the students learn next and students knew where they were at and where they were going. Surely those two things are by far the most important reasons for testing?
As global reforms have taken hold of education, testing has become a stick with which to politically beat schools, teachers. communities, and students. The system has been taken down the wrong path under extreme pressure from the likes of Pearson, Gates, the Wal-Mart clan, Murdoch, Arne Duncan and other reformers. It’s no understantement to say in some countries, such as the USA and Australia, the tests themselves are less about education and more a political and money-making tool.
The Network for Public Education (NPE) states:
“True intelligence in the 21st century depends on creativity and problem-solving, and this cannot be packaged into a test.
We need to invest in classrooms, in making sure teachers have the small class sizes, resources, and support they need to succeed.
We need to stop wasting time and money in the pursuit of test scores.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Take note New Zealand.
Sources and further reading:
Next time you hear someone moaning about public school teachers or the education system in general, take a minute to ponder who exactly is behind those words and what they might have to gain from them.
Because when we have huge media giants in charge of our TV news and our newspapers, our online information, and our publishing companies, and those same moguls have a fist in the education money pot, it’s safe to say they are not unbiased. Quite the contrary.
Murdoch, Gates, Fox News, Pearson Publishing … these are not reliable sources of information about education.
“Here is the key issue. These companies see success in terms of dollars and profit, not academic success and achievement. Education start-ups fail all the time, including ones backed by the giants like Pearson. Once investors start to see diminishing returns or trouble on the horizon they will pull the plug regardless of how well students may be performing with their product. Vetting new teaching methods for success takes years of research, observation and review. ” Source
Who is saying this?
Why would they say it?
Are they qualified to speak on this issue?
Do they have anything to gain?
The results are used for all manner of things.
In some districts, students are forbidden to graduate school if their test scores are not high enough.
In some schools, teachers are sacked if their students’ scores are deemed too low for that year.
Why? It is leading to a “drill and kill” style of schooling where all that matters is the test.
The testing companies. They make millions. Billions.
Pearson has a five-year, US $468 million contract to create Texas maths tests alone.
Tests that have been found to have serious errors.
Meanwhile, as testing companies rack up the profits, who loses?
– Students who get a narrow curriculum that does not value an enquiring mind.
– Teachers who are sacked on very dubious grounds because of these dodgy tests results.
– The 99%, as our education system is systematically pillaged.
This is how one 14 year old A grade student felt when sitting one of these tests:
~ A 14 Year Old Speaks Out About Testing ~
“Today I have experienced one of the most confidence breaking and mind troubling obstacles in my entire life; the Algebra 1 Keystone exam for the State of Pennsylvania. When I sat down to take this standardized test, I did not know what I was getting myself into. My math teacher had been preparing us for this test, but even with all that drill and practice, my mind could not take it all in.
The first 14 questions took me over 10 minutes each when I was trying to solve the unfamiliar equations, long word problems, and words I didn’t even know how to pronounce. I was telling myself that I was going to be fine until all of the stress overwhelmed my body. I was frustrated. “I should know this,” I thought. I wasn’t even half way done when they announced that there were only 10 minutes remaining. I only completed my first set of grueling questions, and still had another set of them and 2 short answer sections containing at least 6 more questions each. I wouldn’t get help from a,b,c or d with these.
At that moment, my mind broke down. I was telling myself that I was stupid, and that these kinds of tests make me feel like I don’t know anything. After hours of work, I still had so much more. It is extremely difficult to continue concentrating at the same intense level as you did when you first started. I was sick and tired of looking at those same boring Algebra problems.
I am an A average student all around, and score advanced on PSSA’s. But I couldn’t even read the next problem without all of those discouraging thoughts spiraling in my mind. I tried telling myself to pull through, but I found myself not caring anymore, and just wanting to circle some letter. I did that for two or three questions and stopped.
I dropped my pencil on my desk, tried taking some deep breaths, and thought of ripping my booklet into shreds. I poked holes in my booklet with my pencil, and started squeezing my hands tightly as if I was going to explode. I was that angry, outraged, fuming.
I felt so incredibly frustrated that these stupid test companies don’t care what they are doing to the students of our country. All they want is the money, and the worst part is, nothing is being done to stop them. Why don’t the politicians making my generation the most over tested in history try the tests for themselves? I bet most of them would fail or do poorly. I mean, if smart, educated people don’t do well on these tests, than what do they show?
These Keystone tests are breaking kids down, making us feel dumb and not want to learn, instead of making us want to enjoy the wonders and greatness of education. I know that when most people in my grade hear the words, standardized testing, no one is jumping up and down with excitement.
I am an 8th grade student in the Lower Merion School District: a district known for their excellent education. When kids here are complaining about how difficult it is for us to take these tests, who knows what kids in struggling school districts are experiencing. Why should these tests be a graduation requirement for high school?
After my big meltdown from the frustration of not knowing how in the world to do these problems, I didn’t continue my test. I told the guidance counselor I couldn’t take it any more, and how it made me feel horrible inside. Although I kept calm on the outside, on the inside I was bomb about to explode. I was holding back my tears.
I bet many other kids felt this same way, even if it wasn’t as strongly as I felt. I will tell you one thing, I am never taking one of those tests again. No test shall ever make me feel as low and deflated as I did today. I don’t care what alternative project I have to do in exchange for the Keystone test. Let me be exempted. No one should experience what I have experienced today. Standardized testing needs to be stopped.”
By Jordyn Schwartz
Jordyn’s letter can be found here.
We are not at this stage yet in Aotearoa, thank goodness. But it’s closer than you think. In the USA it’s entrenched and the same is true of Australia… And in NZ the upcoming PaCT system – a computerised National Standards assessment tool – will bring us one step closer to this horror here.
This is why a strong coalition of principal and teacher leaders rejected the Government’s decision to make PaCT mandatory from 2015. They want to keep teaching and learning authentic.
But the Ministry is not above bullying and threatening schools to gain compliance.
Which means any resistance must come also from parents and students: Prepare to fight to protect our schools from this madness.
“Every parent, student, and teacher in the country is concerned about the influence of corporate vendors on education policy. What is represented as an extreme movement by our Education Secretary can be more accurately described as a consumer revolt against shoddy products produced by an education vendor biopoly (Pearson and McGraw Hill). Because these two vendors have redefined the education marketplace to meet the requirements of RTTT, they both need to be required to write competitive impact statements for the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice.”
First they came for the trained teachers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a teacher.
Then they came for the special needs children,
and I didn’t speak out because my child didn’t have special needs.
Then they came for the schools,
and I didn’t speak out because there were other schools.
Then they came for free public education
and I didn’t speak out because I was exhausted.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
It’s no understatement to say there is an attack under way in education around the world. Corporate reformers have realised how much money there is to be made off the back of our kids’ education, and man are they going to damned well get a finger in that pie.
Global reform goes like this:
And who profits? Is it the kids? Is it the parents?
Or is it the big companies like Pearson, Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify, The Gates Foundation and so on, who are all so fond of promoting education reforms and just happen to have goodies for sale in that arena, too. (But they only do it for the kids y’all…)
“Now, let’s get back to the business of sucking every last penny out of Mr. and Mrs. Average Knucklehead.”
Taking Murdoch’s Amplify as an example… the Tablet Plus costs US$349 per device, and requires a two-year contract. That contract will set you back $179 a year. The tablet itself has just a one year guarantee. So, over US$700 per tablet and they want one for each kid in each classroom in the whole school. Yes, that sure as heck looks like a nice money spinner. And oh look! Mr Murdoch has his own newspaper and TV news empire that can promote such ideas. How nice for him.
Sure, sometimes they get caught out, like Pearson did here… but how often do you reckon they get away with it? Walk off with Millions of tax dollars that could have been better spent on the kids’ education?
But hey, so long as we go whizzing into the 22nd Century and beyond with a couple of Android tablets and some cool apps, who cares. It’s not like we can teach using books and pens, is it…
Is this just happening in America?
Well no, there’s a fair bit going on in England, Australia, and it’s creeping into Aotearoa, too. Let’s look at Aus just last week:
“An urgent inquiry will be held into the impact high-stakes Naplan testing is having on kids, amid growing concern over the pressure applied by schools and parents to students”.
And these are not benign changes and not even just crass for the obvious siphoning off of education dollars. They are not good for kids, either. Children are showing high levels of stress around testing in Aus, and the same thing happens in the UK when SATS take place.
Is this really necessary in order to get a good education? I do have to wonder, when Finnish students have the shortest school days and only one national test at the age of 15 and yet constantly are one of the top 5 in the world for education, whether we are being sold snake oil.
I look forward to seeing what the Naplan report says, at the end of June…
And you might be forgiven for thinking “Wellll, this is not in NZ, this is Australia, this is the USA, we’ll be right…”
Speak out about this lunacy.
It is not good education. It does not improve children’s learning (often quite the opposite).
It is not for choice or for equality or for raising the bar: It is for making money for a small select few.
If you sit by and don’t make a stand, sooner or later the reforms will affect you, and who will be left to shout on your behalf?
Further reading & viewing: