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Teacher Newsmagazine   Volume 25, Number 1, September 2012  

Pearson's plan to control education 

By Donald Gutstein  

Report to the BC Teachers’ Federation

The following is the executive summary of a research report on Pearson plc and their plans for education.

Pearson plc is the world’s largest education company, with operations on nearly every continent. The company earns the bulk of its revenue from digital texts, online learning tools, virtual schools, student and teacher testing programs and services, student information systems, instructional management systems, and much more. It became large by buying up its competitors. It dominates the huge American education market and probably now has its eye on British Columbia, as the province charts a course from print to digital, to what BC Education Minister George Abbott calls 21st century learning using technology. (That’s what Pearson calls it too.) This report traces Pearson’s corporate strategies and how they might impact BC’s public education system, particularly through the BC Education Plan.

According to investment research firm Sanford Bernstein & Co., Pearson is pursuing a variety of growth strategies, including one that will “revolutionize how education is delivered to students around the world, starting with the United States.” It is an ambitious attempt to further commercialize education by claiming its products and services will raise student and teacher performance while at the same time cutting spending. If successful, Bernstein argues, “it would make every teacher and school student in the United States a potential customer” by “personalizing education in US schools through technology and best practices.” And since British Columbia is part of the North American Education division, it too will become a target for the new strategy.

In October 2011, Education Minister Abbott announced his government’s plan “to transform education so that every student can excel and thrive in a rapidly evolving world.” An analysis of the plan’s elements indicates the plan may be designed, not for students or teachers, but for the corporate sector, in which Pearson is a leading player. The plan consists of five elements, each of which could become a profit centre for Pearson (as well as other technology and education corporations).

Personalized learning for every student

Pearson’s partnership with adaptive learning company Knewton is at the heart of efforts to personalize learning. Knewton builds its software into online classes that watch students’ every move: scores, speed, accuracy, delays, keystrokes, click-streams, and drop-offs.

Pearson was selected by the OECD to develop the framework for the 2015 PISA assessment, whose main focus will be testing the scientific literacy of students around the world, making greater use of computer-based testing—a Pearson specialty.

Quality teaching and learning

Pearson is the provider of the set of rubrics used to assess teacher performance in New York and the provider of the model for teacher evaluation used in Tennessee.

In 2006, Pearson bought National Evaluation Systems, the leading provider of customized state assessments for teacher certification in the US.

The company scaled up its exposure in this market through an agreement with Stanford University to develop a national licensure procedure that assesses pre-service teacher candidates. More than 25 states and 90 teacher-preparation programs have signed on to outsource teacher assessment to Pearson-Stanford.

Flexibility and choice

Pearson is the second-largest operator of virtual schools, achieving this position by purchasing leading player, Connections Education, in September 2011, crossing the line from supporting schools to operating them. The Connections Academy division operates online charter schools in 21 states with 40,000 student-customers.

High standards

Pearson dominates the US school-testing market. If BC moves in the direction of online testing on a large scale, Pearson will likely be first in line to win contracts.

Pearson has another product that fits into the Education Plan’s call for high standards, the Schoolnet Instructional Management System. (See discussion earlier.)

Learning empowered by technology

Pearson leads the student information systems (SIS) industry because of its purchase of Apple Computer’s PowerSchool and Burnaby, BC-based Chancery Software, in 2007.

In 2010, Pearson purchased The Administrative Assistants, the Ontario-based company that designed the province’s student information system, BCeSIS, giving it a dominant position for student information systems in the Canadian market.

The company probably tops the list of candidates to win the contract to build and operate BC’s SIS.

The discussion of the Education Plan in this report is speculative because the BC government has not yet implemented the plan’s elements. It should be known within a year, though, if Pearson wins the student information system contract. And if the company’s record is any indication, once it has its foot in the door, look for other Pearson products to follow. 

Donald Gutstein taught in the Communications School at Simon Fraser University for 20 years. His most recent book was Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy. He has written articles on a range of topics, including a look at how the Fraser Institute has been trying to influence education in BC. His articles are available at donaldgutstein.com. E-mail: gutstein@sfu.ca 

For the full report: http://tinyurl.com/8rnu8ct  


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