Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pearson May Quit US K-12

The world's biggest 800 pound corporate education gorilla, Pearson, has announced that they're considering the sale of their US K-12 digital and print curriculum business (the US Learning Services wing of the British-based giant).

We should have taken a virtual trip instead

The move comes at the end of yet another bad period for the previously unstoppable education-flavored mostrosity. The big feature of their latest meeting was supposed to be a showdown over a hefty raise (or "rise" as the Brits call them) in CEO John Fallon's pay, which seemed a bit out of kilter after what has been called a "disastrous" profit warning and the company's worst year on the stock market in fifty years.

How did they end up in such a mess? Last November the Wall Street Journal reported that Pearson had "bet big" on Common Core as well as failing to deliver on its digital teaching materials, despite Fallon's gushing baloney about Pearson's imminent awesomeness as recently as last May. But in January of this year, the word started going out that Pearson was a lousy investment.

The decision to cut loose the US curriculum business is not a small thing. Despite being a UK based biz, Pearson gets a reported 63% of its sales from the US.

Not that the education behemoth is backing quietly away. Last Friday they also announced "it has made a number of strides in its transition to digital products and services," with a particular emphasis on post-secondary initiatives. Their online degree initiative announced a partnership with Duquesne University on top of their ongoing work with University of Nevada-Reno, Regis College, and Maryville University. Pearson proudly touts 300,000 online course starts.

Watch next year for the "next generation" of digital courseware "in development for full commercial launch" next year, including the IBM Watson cognitive tutor, which sounds... alarming. Plus a few other developments signalling that it's college and university students who can expect to feel the sweet, sweet embrace of the Pearson profit-squeezing edu-machine.

Meanwhile, that US K-12 thing-- that's just a "strategic review" because of the "slow pace of digital adoption." What will be getting Pearson's K-12 attention in the US? Their cyber-school division (Connections Education) which is Pearson's "fastest growing" business; no word in the news release on how Pearson plans to address the general crappiness of cyber-schools. Pearson also hopes to build on its leadership in school assessment, so look for that to drive some regulation as states work out their ESSA plans. And they still think that online learning has promise: "This market is still in its infancy but, in time, it will grow as schools finally realize the full digital potential of personalized learning."

So Pearson's dream of a "digital assessment renaissance" have not died. Of course, a year ago, they were announcing peaches and cream and wine and roses and the ensuing year was more skittle and beer and furballs and empty popsicle sticks. And in case you forgot, their Chief Education Advisor Michael Barber announced last November that he would be leaving the company sometime this year. He may or may not have steered policy a great corporate policy a great deal, but he was a master at stringing together pretty words about Pearson's global digital aspirations.

So don't count the ravenous corporate beats out just yet, and in the mean time, note that this is a signal about where corporate education thinks the next big profit centers will be-- Common Core is out, and personalized digitized learning is in. Of course, they were totally wrong about Common Core before; let's hope they're about to be totally wrong again. 


  1. Before anyone invests in depersonalized learning, they should spend a week in a crowded, high needs, 7th grade classroom. When you see the group dynamic you are up against, you may decide to invest in real estate instead.

    Generating ideas, policies, and edu-solutions seems easy when you are in a cubicle, thinking about the one or two children you may know. The piratizers are utterly clueless about the grind of every day life in the trenches. This is why their ideas have met with such spectacular failure. Fallon thought he was the smartest guy in the room, but wasn't smart enough to know that educating 50 million children, (20+) x (5 periodes) x (180 school days) - had very little to do with standards, scope and sequence, curriculum, or testing. Don't let the school door hit you on the way out.

  2. Thanks for writing this. I'm curious what educators think of Pearson's Envision math curriculum (hard copy and online materials). We're in year two of it, and I can't say I like it, but I am not a teacher. This is not my county, but clearly we're not the only ones. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/aegis/ph-ag-new-math-0315-20170315-story.html


  3. Ever since my district adopted Pearson's blended learning materials three years ago, I have been regularly using the hashtag #pearsoncrappyproducts. The next adoption cycle can't come soon enough.