Huffpost Education
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Alan Singer Headshot

Pearson 'Education' -- Who Are These People?

Posted: Updated:

According to a recent article on Reuters, an international news service based in Great Britain, "investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education. The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors."

Pearson, a British multi-national conglomerate, is one of the largest private businesses maneuvering for U.S. education dollars. The company had net earnings of 956 million pounds or approximately 1.5 billion dollars in 2011.

Starting in May 2014, Pearson Education will take over teacher certification in New York State as a way of fulfilling the state's promised "reforms" in its application for federal Race to the Top money. The evaluation system known as the Teacher Performance assessment or TPA was developed at Stanford University with support from Pearson, but it will be solely administered and prospective teachers will be entirely evaluated by Pearson and its agents. Pearson is adverting for current or retired licensed teachers or administrators willing to evaluate applicants for teacher certification. It is prepared to pay $75 per assessment.

The Pearson footprint appears to be everywhere and taints academic research as well as government policy. For example, the Education Development Center (EDC), based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a "global nonprofit organization that designs, delivers and evaluates innovative programs to address some of the world's most urgent challenges in education, health, and economic opportunity." EDC works with "public-sector and private partners" to "harness the power of people and systems to improve education, health promotion and care, workforce preparation, communications technologies, and civic engagement." In education, it is involved in curriculum and materials development, research and evaluation, publication and distribution, online learning, professional development, and public policy development. According to its website, its funders include Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, the Gates Foundation, and of course, Pearson Education, all companies or groups that stand to benefit from its policy recommendations.

EDC sponsored a study on the effectiveness of new teacher evaluation systems, "An examination of performance-based teacher evaluation systems in five states," that Pearson is promoting but there are two VERY BIG FLAWS in the study. First, of the five states included in the study, Delaware, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas, four, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas, are notorious anti-union states where teachers have virtually no job security or union protection, and Delaware used the imposition of new teacher assessments to make it more difficult for teachers to acquire tenure. In Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia collective bargaining by teachers is illegal. Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina used the new assessments to make it easier to fire teachers and Georgia used the assessments to determine teacher pay. The second flaw is that the study draws no connection between the evaluation system and improved student learning.

According to the Financial Times of London, a Pearson owned property, in what I consider a conflict-of-interests, Susan Fuhrman, the President of Teachers College at Columbia University has been a "Non-Executive Independent Director of Pearson PLC" since 2004 and a major stockholder in the company with over 13,000 shares worth according to my estimate over two hundred thousand dollars. Fuhrman also is "president of the National Academy of Education, and was previously dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and on the board of trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching."

In official Pearson PLC reports available online, Susan Fuhrman, President of Teachers College-Columbia University is listed as a non-executive director of Pearson. As of February 29, 2012, she held 12,927 shares of Pearson stock valued at $240,000. As a non-executive director she also receives an annual fee of 65,000 or almost $100,000. Fuhrman has been a non-executive director since 2004 and has received fees and stock I estimate worth more than a million dollars, certainly a substantial sum, but not the $20 million I initially reported.

There has been some resistance to Pearson's influence over American education.

In May 2012, students and teachers in the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus School of Education launched a national campaign challenging the forced implementation of Teacher Performance Assessment. They argued that the field supervisors and cooperating teachers who guided their teaching practice and observed and evaluated them for six months in middle and high school classrooms were better equipped to judge their teaching skills and potential than people who had never seen nor spoken with them. They have refused to participate in a pilot program organized by Pearson and to submit the two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching and a take-home test. They are supported by United Opt Out National, a website that organized a campaign and petition drive to boycott Pearson evaluations of students, student teachers, and teachers. In June 2012, New York parents protested against Pearson designed reading tests that included stand reading passages and meaningless choices.

The question that must addressed is whether the British publishing giant Pearson and its Pearson Education subsidy should determine who is qualified to teach and what should be taught in New York State and the United States? I don't think so! Not only did no one elect them, but when people learn who they are, they might not want them anywhere near a school -- or a government official.

From what I can make out from its website, the three key players at Pearson and Pearson Education are Glen Moreno, chairman of the Pearson Board of Directors, Dame Marjorie Morris Scardino, overall chief executive for Pearson, and William Ethridge, chief executive for North American Education. Although the largest stockholders are a British investment firm called Legal & General Group PLC which controls 32 million shares or 4% of the company and the Libyan Investment Authority with 24 million shares or 3% of the company. According to the Financial Times of London, the Libyan Investment Authority was founded by Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam, his heir apparent until the regime's collapse, in January 2007.

Glen Moreno is wealthy, powerful, influential, and I believe highly suspect. According to Wikipedia, Moreno was born in California in 1943 and has a law degree from Harvard University. He worked for 18 years at Citigroup in Europe and Asia, running the investment banking and trading divisions. Moreno was a director of the politically influential Fidelity International Ltd. According to U.K. Electoral Commission records, "since 1994, Fidelity Investment Management, part of Fidelity International, has donated £495,500 to the party. Mr Moreno is a former chief executive of Fidelity's international arm." He became chairman of Pearson, the publisher of the British newspaper Financial Times in October 2005.

Moreno was chairman of UK Financial Investments, the group set up by the British government to protect public funds used to bail-out banks after the 2008 global economic collapse. He was forced to resign in 2009 when it was revealed that he was a trustee of Liechtenstein Global Trust (LGT), a private bank accused of aiding tax evasion.

Moreno was also deputy chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, Great Britain's largest mortgage lender, but stepped down there in May 2012.

Among the Pearson troika, Moreno is the lowest paid, although he apparently has other resources. According to Forbes, his total compensation in 2011 was a little over $600,000. He does however own a home in London and a cattle farm in Virginia and according to the Times of London, managed to purchase 200,000 shares of Lloyd stock in 2010.

Dame Marjorie was also originally an American but became a British citizen. She has been CEO of Pearson since 1997. Before becoming CEO of Pearson she was a lawyer in Georgia and a newspaper publisher. In 2007, Forbes magazine placed her seventeenth on its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. She was named a "Dame of the British Empire" in 2010. According to Forbes, her total compensation in 2011 was $2,455,000. But that represents a tiny fraction of her compensation that includes stock options. Scardino holds 1.5 million shares of Pearson stock.

William Ethridge became chief executive of Pearson's North American Education division in 2008. He has what Pearson considers educational experience because he previously worked for Prentice Hall and Addison Wesley. At Pearson he has been head of its Higher Education, International and Professional Publishing division and chairman of CourseSmart, a Pearson sponsored consortium of electronic textbook publishers. According to Forbes, his total compensation in 2011 was $1,390,000. He holds a half million shares of Pearson stock.

According to ILSE or London South East, which reports British stock market transactions, on July 30 and 31 2012, Dame Marjorie and William Ethridge were involved in Pearson stock transfers and sales on the London exchanges. If I read the ILSE report correctly, the percentage of their holdings that Ethridge and Scardino sold seemed to be a bit less than 4% of their total holdings. The sales brought Ethridge approximately $323,500 in U.S. dollars. However a Pearson regulatory announcement issued on August 1, 2012, claims that share sales by Pearson directors on those dates related to shares earned through Pearson's long-term incentive plan (LTIP), whose rules "require that sufficient shares are sold to discharge the PAYE (Pay As You Earn) income tax liability on the shares released."

This was at a time when financial observers including the influential Nomura Group were questioning whether Pearson stock was overvalued. ILSE reported that "Pearson had warned in April that its adjusted operating profit would be down in the first half of 2012 . . . Sales at Penguin dropped 4%, with profits falling 48% to £22 million, which management said was caused by lower sales in its more profitable U.S. market. Uncertainty over potential national and local government spending cuts in the US continues to cast a shadow over the group's Education business."

In other words, Pearson's chief operating officers, who are also heavily invested in the company, are busy trading stocks and racking up dollars and pounds while the corporation's financial situation is shaky. And their solution is to sell, sell, sell their products in the United States.

Are these the people we want designing tests, lessons, and curriculum for our students and deciding who is qualified to become teachers?

Correction:

London Stock Exchange prices are quoted in pounds and pence. Unless indicated, the price of shares is shown in pence. 100 pence equal 1 pound. I originally wrote "The sales brought Ethridge alone 20,474,712 GBX or approximately 32,350,000 in U.S. dollars." However, GBX is in pence, so the U.S. dollar value of the transaction would only be $323,500.

In official Pearson PLC reports available online, Susan Fuhrman, President of Teachers College-Columbia University is listed as a non-executive director of Pearson. As of February 29, 2012, she held 12,927 shares of Pearson stock valued at $240,000. As a non-executive director she also receives an annual fee of 65,000 or almost $100,000. Fuhrman has been a non-executive director since 2004 and has received fees and stock I estimate worth more than a million dollars, certainly a substantial sum, but not the $20 million I initially reported.

I thank "Nick50000" for bringing this to my attention.