THE BLOG

People Are Pissed at Pearson

03/23/2015 03:54 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson's chief educational officer, actually became a British knight in 2005 for his role in leading marketplace "educational reform" in Great Britain. I suspect if he were good in math they would have made him a count. Barber apparently can't decide whether Pearson is leading a global Renaissance (rebirth) in education, a global revolution, or both. But in either case he believes that globalisation (he spells it like a Brit) and technology will direct the changes and we mere peasants have no choice but to go along. Sir Mike constantly writes and speaks about efficacy, the ability to produce a desired or intended result. But as you look at what is happening with Pearson and education, you see very little efficacy. Pearson's only intended result is to make more and more money. That is why so many people are pissed at Pearson and fighting back against Common Core and Pearson PARCC exams.

In Massachusetts, teachers are pissed at Pearson. Pearson wanted teachers proctoring PARCC exams to sign a "security agreement" that threatened their jobs if they failed to comply. The agreement included the warning, in the test manual and on PARCC letterhead, "Failure to abide by the terms of the agreement may result in an investigation that leads to sanctions including employment and licensure consequences, according to your state policies." The state's teachers' union demanded that the Commissioner of Education rescind the signing directive. In response, Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester issued a memorandum that teachers did not have to sign the PARCC Security Agreement in order to proctor the test.

In New York State, university professors are pissed at Pearson. The State Education Department (NYSED) sent out a survey to University Schools of Education "to obtain feedback from New York State educators regarding the importance of the assessment competencies to the job of an educator in the above field in New York State public schools." But the survey was not being conducted by the New York State Education Department; it was being done by Pearson. Participants were instructed, "If you have any questions, please e-mail us at es-cvsurvey@pearson.com or call our toll-free number: 1-800-877-4584." The questions on the survey were also ridiculous. Pearson wanted to know whether reviewers think teacher command of content knowledge and analytical tools in an academic field is of "no importance," "Little importance," "Moderate importance," "Great importance," or "Very great importance." Similar messages were sent to school principals. Basically, this was a pretend survey so that NYSED and Pearson could claim experts in the field were consulted in the preparation of teacher certification material.

In New Jersey, parents and students are pissed at Pearson. Pearson has contracted out the "test-security services" to a company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Caveon Web Patrol provides Pearson with "continual, consistent monitoring (of) the internet for illicit sharing of valuable intellectual property."

Pearson's agents monitored social media and Twitter after students took a Pearson PARCC exam. They notified state education officials of a possible "security breach." The state education officials then demanded that schools discipline the students. On its website, Pearson claims "when test questions or elements of a test are posted publicly to the Internet, including social media, we are obligated to alert PARCC states. Any contact with students or decisions about student consequences are handled at the local level." By any standard Pearson goes to absurd policing extremes. According to the website, "A breach includes any time someone shares information about a test outside of the classroom -- from casual conversations to posts on social media." In Pearson world, students, teachers, and parents are not even allowed to talk about the tests in "casual conversations."

Forbes magazine reported that Michael Yaple, the director of public information for the New Jersey Department of Education, supported Pearson. According to Yaple, "Students may not realize that each test item involves a substantial commitment of taxpayer expense and a great deal of time and effort of dozens of educators in New Jersey and across the consortium who review and design each test question -- which is proprietary, copyrighted material."

A group called the Badass Teachers Association (BAT) demanded that the United States Justice Department investigate charges that Pearson's spying on children violates First Amendment and privacy rights. In New Jersey, no cheating was ever implied, only discussing the test. BAT is calling on parents, teachers, and students to email the U.S Department of Justice at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov to demand the investigation.

The American Federation of Teachers, concerned that "Big Brother really is watching," has launched a petition campaign demanding to know "who Pearson is watching, what they do with the data and what agreements they have with states to monitor what our kids are saying."

Meanwhile, NJ Advance Media has been examining Pearson/PARCC contracts with the state of New Jersey. They claim the documents show a "complex deal with more than 60 price variables that make it almost impossible to determine how much New Jersey will eventually spend on PARCC testing over the next few years." Pearson secured the contract to provide the exams without a "traditional competitive bidding process."

Also in New Jersey, a group called NJ Working Families is protesting against an $83 million dollar tax break Pearson Education received from the state's Economic Development Authority for moving 628 employees about 27 miles from Upper Saddle River to Hoboken.

In Ohio, schools are pissed at Pearson. Pearson received over 9,600 phone calls, emails and chats from Ohio districts complaining about problems administering online PARCC/Common Core-aligned English and math standardized exams after testing began in February. According to The Columbus Dispatch, "Most of the queries -- 86 percent -- were related to problems with administering the test, including registering students, getting them into online test sessions and responding to test policies and procedures such as make-up testing." Students couldn't log on, some were cut off before finishing the test, and some computers couldn't operate the system as promised. District technology staff were forced to solve problems themselves instead of waiting on the phone for a response from the Pearson help line. The scores of the spring assessments will not be available until next fall, which means they will not be useful in diagnosing the needs of individual students. The Ohio state legislature is now investigating the impact, delivery, and usefulness of the tests.

In Indiana, the Governor is pissed at Pearson. Pearson was awarded the contract to create the state's ISTEP standardized tests. But the tests are so expensive that the governor and state legislature are considering getting rid of the tests altogether.

In California, the State Education Department is pissed at Pearson. Pearson recently lost out in bidding to administer state standardized tests and is now threatening to sue. Pearson ranked lowest among the three bidders and was rated poorly in assessment development, test security and administration, technology support and its overall comprehensive plan and schedule of deliverables of the online assessments. Pearson's reputation was hurt by an ongoing FBI investigation of possible collusion in dealings with the Los Angeles Unified in a contract with Apple and Pearson to supply iPads pre-loaded with Pearson's Common Core curriculum.

In Colorado, parents are pissed at Pearson. Parents are protesting against the collection of student data by Pearson and are demanding to know how it is being used. In November 2014, high school students in Boulder walked out in protests over the PARCC exams and in the small Peetz Plateau school district nearly a quarter of the students "opted-out" of the exams.

In New Mexico, a judge is hearing a suit brought by another testing company that alleges that there were irregularities when Pearson was awarded the contract to develop PARCC tests for the state. The legal challenge could halt PARCC testing in the state. Meanwhile pissed at Pearson protesters marched on the home of State Education Secretary Hanna Skandera demanding the suspension of Pearson PARCC exams.

In New York City, everybody may be pissed with Pearson. The latest miracle math cure is a "blended" program called School of One. An airport-style algorithm makes it possible to group 120 students in a room for individualized computer-based learning with minimum teacher involvement. The program includes "a library of 12,000 lessons, some created by its staff, but most bought à la carte from companies like Pearson and IXL." The only problem is that School of One is "expensive, and not yet proven effective."

An elementary school teacher on Long Island in New York, a former test developer for Pearson, analyzed questions on the third grade Common Core reading test and discovered that the reading level of passages and questions was as much as two years above grade level. He wrote, "It is clear the Common Core state tests have no regard for the most widely understood testing principle -- write questions that are on grade level ... Imagine giving 3rd graders 6th, 7th, and 8th grade level questions and thinking this is somehow the proper measure of their growth or their teacher's instruction."

According to G. F. Brandenburg, a retired Washington DC math teacher who now blogs on educational issues, Pearson and Common Core advocates are designing math tests that result in "mass failure" so they can "proclaim that public education is a failure and must be abolished."

G. F. Brandenburg may be right. Pearson is already investing in building a chain of private for-profit schools in third world countries including South Africa, the Philippines, Ghana, and India.

Financially, Pearson may not being doing as well as it claims. Pearson reports its adjusted profits have increased, but in February it appointed a new chief financial officer when it became clear that in 2014 its net profit fell by almost 9% from the previous year, roughly $100 million by my calculations. Sales declined by 7% in Pearson's education business. Pearson generates about three-quarters of its revenue from sales to schools and school districts.

If you are pissed with Pearson, know you are not alone. There actually is a website, Pissed Consumers, with a special Pearson Education page with complaints ranging from broken CDs to online sites that do not function and poor customer support. New York State student teachers who have been blocked from certification, because Pearson still has not graded tests administered in September 2014, can post complaints here. But you should also contact your elected state officials and you can call Pearson customer service directly at 800-848-9500. Flood their lines. Pissed with Pearson, let's keep them on the run!