Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who Owns The Minds Of Our Children? - Pearson's Stranglehold On Education

Photo by Josh Davis
Big Brother is watching your kids. No, it's not the NSA phone taps or spying Samsung Smart TVs that we need to be concerned about. This time it's public education.

Pearson PLC to be exact. Over the weekend, one of the world's largest education publishing companies, Pearson PLC, the company responsible for crafting Common Core's vile standardized tests, was exposed for monitoring students' social media accounts.

Word of the giant mega-company's "spying" first hit the internet via the blog of Bob Braun, former education reporter for The Star-Ledger from Newark, New Jersey. Braun shared a copy of a letter sent by Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett of Watchung Hills School District to her staff.

"Last night at 10 PM, my testing coordinator received a phone call from NJDOE [New Jersey Department of Education] that Pearson had initiated a Priority 1 Alert for an item breach within our school. The information the NJDOE initially called with was that there was a security breech DURING the test session, and they suggested the student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it. After further investigation on our part, it turned out that the student had posted a tweet (NO PICTURE) at 3:18 PM (after school) that referenced a PARCC test question. The student deleted the tweet and we spoke with the parent - who was obviously highly concerned as to her child's tweets being monitored by the DOE. The DOE informed us that Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing... the DOE wanted us to also issue discipline to the student."

I get it. In order to keep the test's results pure and untainted, Pearson has to be the vigilant yet creepy internet stalker to make sure test material isn't leaked. The sanctity of THE TEST must not be corrupted! There are, after all, about $108 million dollars on the line (and that's just in Pearson's contract with the state of New Jersey... they also have hefty contracts with other states, including a $32 million contract with the state of New York and another $500 million deal with Texas) - and that's an awful lot of George Washingtons.

Which brings me to the really scary part of all of this... Pearson PLC isn't even an American company. Great job there, US public education policy makers! You've sold our children's minds to a privately-owned FOREIGN company.

Think I'm being a tad bit dramatic? Let's take a look at just how deep Pearson's power reaches.

1. Pearson has designed and implemented the exam used for teacher licensure in many states. That means that only the teachers approved by Pearson will gain employment in the classroom. Only the teachers that pass Pearson's screening (AKA Teacher Licensure Testing and Performance Assessment. Here in North Carolina it's the PRAXIS... which is also a Pearson test.) will be allowed to teach your children.

2. Pearson provides educational resources for classrooms across the country. In the form of textbooks, teacher's manuals, digital and online resources, and plug-and-chug curricula, Pearson dictates what and how those pre-approved teachers... I mean "licensed educators"... will be teaching in their classrooms.

3. Pearson designs and scores the standardized tests used in Common Core. Those tests are used to gauge teacher effectiveness (Let's make sure those pre-approved teachers continue to conform to those pre-approved standards, shall we?), which often determines not only individual teacher's job security but also federal funding for school districts. There is no marching to the beats of different educational drummers when there's only one very loud drummer that offers you cash (aka federal funding) for marching with him.

4. Those same Pearson standardized tests are used to 'measure' student success and college eligibility for each student. Basically, they have your child's whole future financial success and potential career satisfaction in the palm of their grubby corporate hands. This wins the parents over, too. No mother wants her 32-year-old son still living at home because he couldn't get into a good college and therefore can't get a good job. Test scores are important... especially to greedy corporate moguls.

5. Pearson is data-mining your kids. By collecting, storing, and analyzing student performance, the company knows more about your kids than their teachers, and they'll know even more next year. Sure they are touting their intent to use that data in order to better tailor teaching to meet your child's specific needs, but that means they can also market their materials. They can see each child's weaknesses and interests and customize their products to suit them. They can sell school districts on more products, which means more cash in their pockets. Plus they can  potentially sell that mined data to marketing companies. It also means there isn't a lot of privacy when it comes to student performance or even their personal interests. You wouldn't let anyone else in cyberspace stalk your kid with such fastidiousness. That would be creepy and disturbing. But so long as it's a private corporation from overseas that claims to magnanimously have the interests of your child at heart... well, that's okay.

6. Speaking of internet stalking, they are watching what your kids post on social media... even after school hours. And they want your kids to get in trouble with the Department of Education if they don't toe the Pearson-approved line. It's not exactly spying, since the internet is a very public forum.  Anything that your kids put out there is open to public scrutiny, but the practice is definitely a violation of their freedom of speech. When the Department of Education (with a healthy amount of corporate arm-twisting thrown in for good measure) steps in to tell you what your kids can and cannot say even when they aren't on a public school campus, that is government infringement on one of those very inalienable rights laid out in the handy dandy Bill of Rights... but how could we expect a foreign-owned company to respect American liberties?

7. Not only will Pearson attempt to bring the long arm of the law down on students who tweet about the test, but they also don't want them discussing the test content with ANYONE. That doesn't only include other students, but teachers, administrators, and even their very own parents as well. Call it test security, but it has the capacity to keep unfair, incorrect, or otherwise questionable material from going public. If no one knows what's in the test, how can anyone disapprove?

Pearson isn't the only big corporation making big bucks off the minds of children (there's also McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), but it is the largest. So no, it isn't a total monopoly... but it's pretty darned close. With Pearson products intimately involved in every aspect of education, from teacher training to text books to standardized  testing to student record management, it wouldn't be a stretch to conclude that Pearson might have the biggest influence on the next generation of Americans... bigger than television, social media, and pop culture.

Also considering the number of hours that kids spend in school and doing homework over their entire school career (Pearson also has it's hand deep in the college cookie jar), this private British company might have a greater influence than the kids' own parents.

Scary shit, if you ask me. I'm not sure we aren't living in a teen dystopian novel.

I'll just file this under reason #916 that my children are homeschooled.

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