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Alan Singer

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Cuomo, Common Core and Pearson-for-Profit

Posted: 02/28/2012 4:19 pm

It will probably take more than a billion dollars in the bank to run for President of the United States in 2016. It looks like New York State Governor is already lining up corporate support. My concern is that he will sell out the education of New York State's children to for-profit companies, particularly Pearson, to position himself for the run.

Pearson is one of the most aggressive companies seeking to profit from what they and others euphemistically call educational reform, but which teachers from groups like Rethinking Schools and FairTest see as an effort to sell, sell, sell substandard remedial education programs seamlessly aligned with the high stakes standardized tests for students and teacher assessments they are also selling. Pearson reported revenues of approximately $9 billion in 2010 and generated approximately $3 billion on just digital revenues in 2011.

If it has its way, Pearson will soon be determining what gets taught in schools across the United States with little or no parental or educational oversight. Pearson standardized exams will assess how well teachers implement Pearson instruction modules and Pearson's common core standards, but not what students really learn or whether students are actually learning things that are important to know. Pearson is already creating teacher certification exams for eighteen states including New York, organizing staff development workshops to promote Pearson products, and providing school district Pearson assessment tools. In New York, Pearson Education currently has a five-year, $32 million contract to administer state test and provides other "testing services" to the State Education Department. It also recently received a share of a federal Race to the Top grant to create what the company calls the "next-generation" of online assessments.

Pearson, which claims to be the "world's leading learning company," is in the process of designing mind-numbing "multimedia textbooks... designed for pre-schoolers, school students and learners of all ages" for use on Apple's iPad so school systems will have more products to purchase instead of investing in quality teaching and instruction. In case you are not already worried about children seating dazed in front of computer screens for hours on end, Pearson promises its "respected learning content" will be "brought to life with video, audio, assessment, interactive images and 3D animations."

According to the New York Times, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is "investigating whether the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of one of the nation's largest educational publishers, acted improperly to influence state education officials by paying for overseas trips and other perks." Since 2008, state education officials have been treated to trips to London, Helsinki, Finland, Singapore, and Rio de Janeiro.

From February 9-11, Pearson organized a National Summit in Orlando, Florida to promote its concept of "Best Practices in School Improvement" and to sell its programs for integrating Common Core State Standards into curriculum, instruction and assessment. These include providing "struggling and successful schools alike with professional development and consultative services that have helped their leaders transform instruction in the classroom and raise students' achievement levels." The company brags that senior America's Choice fellows Sally Hampton and Phil Daro, employees of a Pearson sub-division, "not only led the development of the Common Core Standards, but also helped design Pearson's CCSS services, helping us tailor our professional development, district level consultative services, job-embedded coaching, learning teams for building capacity, and even whole school CCSS implementation services in order to meet your specific needs and interests as you align curriculum content and practices to the standards."

In September, Pearson cemented its ties with the New York State governor and the State Education Department when David Wakelyn was appointed Deputy Secretary for Education. Governor Cuomo claimed "With his extensive experience in improving the performance of schools all across the nation, David Wakelyn is the right person to help turn around our schools. He is an expert in state policy for education, and together we will deliver results for students and families in New York." However, Wakelyn's resume shows that after briefly working as a teacher as part of the Teach for America program, he moved into educational policy and decision making, primarily as a Senior Associate for America's Choice School Design, which is now a leading Pearson sub-division.

Of course, Wakelyn is not the only corporate representative to move into a government position where they can sell products produced by their former (and future?) employer. Karen Cator, the Director of the federal Department of Education 's educational technology section previously was an executive at Apple Computers for eight years.