Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pearson Eats PARCC

Relax and stop resisting. You will be assimilated.

Yesterday PARCC, one of the two giant consortia of high stakes standardized testing, announced that they will become part of the giant corporate beast that is Pearson. PARCC's negotiator described the contract as having "unprecedented scale." Pearson has promised a price cut ($24 per student, marked down from $29.50) but the scale of this product sale will be so huge. So huge. And really-- if you're producing a single standardized test for tens of millions of "customers," what does it really cost you to produce per unit? What is Pearson's markup on this product? I'm guessing that's information we won't have soon.

There were no competing bids. As Mercedes Schneider points out, we have now achieved the "economies of scale" that Bill Gates touted as one of the reasons to have education reform.

This has always been part of the point. It's so pesky to have to deal with all those different school districts as customers. Let's rig the system so that every customer must buy the same thing. Think of how much easier, how much more profitable the auto industry would be, if federal law mandated that we all buy the same make and model car with the same features in the same color. It would suck for us as customers, but it would be great for the corporations trying to make a buck.

Historically, robber barons love the free market until they don't. John D. Rockefeller loved the way the free market allowed him to scarf up pieces of the oil industry until he had them all, at which point the Standard's corporate goal was to make sure that no other players could get on the field. This has always been the pattern (a good read on that subject is Matthew Josephson's 1934 book The Robber Barons), from Vanderbilt through Gates. Competition is healthy-- until I'm big enough to crush it.

Pearson is achieving the kind of vertical industry dominance that Rockefeller dreamed of, but the Standard Oil Company fell victim to a US Congress that actually passed anti-trust laws. Pearson, like any good 21st century corporation, has nothing to fear from the US Congress. Pearson publishes the books, writes the tests, writes the programs. You may have missed this one, but Pearson now owns the GED and runs it for a profit. Pearson owns the programs for certifying teachers. And now it runs the PARCC.

So our children will learn the name of Pearson from cradle through career. All our children. And when they screw something up (as they've already done many times) they will screw it up for everybody. Because our children are increasingly growing up in a standardized world.

There are so many things wrong with this. So many things.

We used to complain about how the Japanese were buying our country. Then we got all patriotically incensed about how much US debt is owned by the Chinese. How about having the entire United States education system owned and operated by a British company.

Biologists have been sounding the alarm about biodiversity. Crops like bananas have been engineered down from a wealth of varieties to just one basic "version." The lack of biodiversity is an "all your eggs in one basket" kind of threat-- if something happens to that one strain of banana, the entire world's banana crop is in danger.

Lack of economic diversity is even worse. When one banana becomes a dominant strain, it doesn't travel the world trying to snuff out the life of other strains. But if the next Bill Gates comes along today, he will have a hell of a time getting his start-up launched. Giant corporations raise the admission fee for playing the game to unimaginable heights.

I can find you several hundred teachers who could all create better teaching and testing materials than Pearson. What I can't find you is the giant pile of money they would need to enter the market.

If there were no other criticism to be leveled against the Common Core, if there were no other issues with that push for national standards, if the Core were actually educationally sound, this alone would still be enough reason to fight against it. The CCSS, the push for national standards, has made it possible-- actually, more likely-- for one giant corporation to buy American public education from top to bottom. That alone is enough reason to oppose it.


  1. There is only one solution...and that is to bring to scale the opt out movement. It has to become a major force in every state. We need to figure out state by state and district by district the number needed (6%?) to invalidate the results. We need to secure that amount in every state for the 2014-15 school year. Let's do it.

  2. I'd like to gear more about this. How do we get involved?

  3. "I can find you several hundred teachers who could all create better teaching and testing materials than Pearson".
    According to Pearson, they have a "huge" team of teachers. REALLY? somehow I doubt it.....