You've already heard the story by now-- Pearson has been found monitoring students on social media in New Jersey, catching them tweeting about the PARCC test, and contacting the state Department of Education so that the DOE can contact the local school district to get the students in trouble.
You can read the story here at the blog of NJ journalist Bob Braun. Well, unless the site is down again. Since posting the story, Braun's site has gone down twice that I know of. Initially it looked like Braun had simply broken the internet, as readers flocked to the report. Late last night Braun took to facebook to report that the site was under attack and that he had taken it down to stop the attack. As I write this (6:17 AM Saturday) the site and the story are up, though loading slowly.
The story was broken by Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett of Watchung Hills Regional High School district in an email to her colleagues. But in contacting Jewett he has learned that she confirmed three instances in which Pearson contacted the NJDOE to turn over miscreant students for the state to track down and punish. [Update: Jewett here authenticates the email that Braun ran.]
Meanwhile, many alert eyes turned up this: Pearson's Tracx, a program that may or may not allow the kind of monitoring we're talking about here.
Several thoughts occur. First, under exactly whose policy are these students to be punished. Does the PARCC involve them taking the same kind of high security secrecy pledge that teachers are required to take, and would such a pledge signed by a minor, anyway?
How does this fit with the ample case law already establishing that, for instance, students can go on line and create websites or fake facebook accounts mocking school administrators? They can mock their schools, but they have to leave important corporations alone?
I'm also wondering, again, how any test that requires this much tight security could not suck. Seriously.
How much of the massive chunk of money paid by NJ went to the line item "keep an eye on students on line?"
Granted, the use of the word "spying" is a bit much-- social media are not exactly secret places where the expectation of privacy is reasonable or enforceable, and spying on someone there is a little like spying on someone in a Wal-mart. But it's still creepy, and it's still one more clear indicator that Pearson's number one concern is Pearson's business interests, not students or schools or anything else. And while this is not exactly spying, the fact that Pearson never said a public word about their special test police cyber-squad, not even to spin it in some useful way, shows just how far above student, school, and state government they envision themselves to be.
Pearson really is Big Brother-- and not just to students, but to their parents, their schools, and their state government. It's time to put some serious pressure on politicians. If they're even able to stand up to Pearson at this point, now is the time for them to show us.