Archive for the ‘Alan Singer’ Tag

Alan Singer on Pearson Ed: Why Pearson Tests Our Kids   2 comments

Note to Utahns: Utah children are being tested by AIR, not by Pearson.  So why post this article?

  It’s no secret that Utah, as well as the federal government, has heavily invested in Pearson/Microsoft‘s philosophy and product.  Pearson leads out in all Common Core implementation and student-data gathering products nationwide, including here in Utah (except for the SAGE/AIR test itself).  

Alan Singer’s article adds to the growing argument against Pearson, period.  My hope is that both Pearson’s products and its “one-global-governance-system” philosophy will be vigorously rejected and that Pearson will not  receive one more penny of the countless Utah tax dollars it has already claimed, both via curriculum sales and via its creepy database building for our state’s school system.  

Why Pearson Tests Our Kids

by Alan Singer,  Hofstra University

 (Posted with permission from the author and also published here)

 

Pearson invited me to breakfast. Well not just me. I received an email inviting Long Island educators to a free “Breakfast Briefing” promoting “Pearson Personalized Learning” that would empower me to “Turn your traditional student learning into Student-Centered learning by delivering the right curriculum to the right student, at the right time.” I checked out Pearson’s personal learning products online and then decided that the free breakfast and the opportunity to annoy them was not worth the trip.

 

Pearson is promoting GradPoint, “an easy to use web based solution for grades 6-12” that “includes over 180 rigorous courses (Core, Electives, AP and Foreign Language & CTE).;” iLit, “a tablet-based reading intervention for students in grades 4-10” which promises “it has everything your class needs to gain two years of reading growth in a single year;” and aimsweb, “the leading assessment and RTI solution in school today-a complete web-based solution for universal screening, progress monitoring, and data management for Grades K-12.”

 

I thought calling their literacy program iLit was pretty funny, but otherwise I find their promotion scary. “Pearson Personalized Learning” is not about supporting schools; it is about replacing them. And it is about replacing them without any evidence that their products work or any concern for the impact of their products on schools and student learning.

 

Pearson executives Sir Michael Barber, Saad Rizvi and John Fallon call their global market strategy “The Incomplete Guide To Delivering Learning Outcomes.” Fallon, Pearson CEO, has been with the company for most of his professional career. He is behind the push for “efficacy,” the corporate buzzword, which in practical terms translates into the constant assessing of student performance who are using Pearson products. The testing strategy tied into common core in the United States is neither an accident nor an accessory. Testing is the core of common core.

 

I find Barber and Rizvi even more interesting than Fallon for understanding Pearson’s marketing strategies. Barber is Pearson’s chief education strategist and leads its three-pronged assault on education around the world through what Pearson calls efficacy, affordable learning, and the Pearson Knowledge and Research Centre. Efficacy is supposed to be about what works in education based on research done at the research centre, but everything is actually organized around the Pearson goal of “finding business models for affordable schools” that they will be selling, especially in “developing areas of the world.”

 

If you want to know how Pearson plans to operate, you have to look at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm and advisor to some of the world’s leading businesses, governments, and institutions. Before joining Pearson, Michael Barber had a similar role at McKinsey where he was a partner. Saad Rizvi, who is Pearson’s Senior Vice President for Efficacy and head of its Catalyst for Education team, was a consultant at McKinsey. McKinsey & Company’s clients include 100 of the top 150 companies in the world. It has advised the Bank of England, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and the German government.

 

The main job of McKinsey is to help companies maintain profitability by closing subsidies, selling assets, shifting production, and laying off workers. McKinsey has had its share of mishaps. Former employees include Jeff Skilling, the disgraced chief executive of Enron and Rajat K. Gupta, who was convicted of insider trading. Other disasters include advising Time Warner on its ill-fated merger with AOL, advising General Motors on how to compete with Japanese automakers, and advising AT&T not to be concerned about cellphones. A top McKinsey partner dismissed these failures saying “We are advisers, and it is management’s job to take all the advice they receive and make their own decisions. Not to say that McKinsey told me to do this.”

I think a fair question to ask is, do we want the business model that led to the Eron scam and these other corporate disasters employed in operating American schools and McKinsey’s no-fault attitude toward advising local, state, and federal governments on educational policy?

 

Pearson’s Affordable Learning division currently focuses on emerging markets in Africa and India, but it is the model for Pearson business worldwide. It includes eAdvance (South Africa), which sponsors a blended learning chain called Spark Schools; Omega, a chain of thirty-eight private schools in Ghana; Bridge International Academies in Kenya; and Zaya, an educational technology and service company contracted to operate twenty-seven schools; Suiksha, a chain of pre-schools; Experifun, which markets science learning products; Avanti, after-school test prep; and Village Capital (Edupreneurs) promoting private education start-up companies, all based in India. The blurb for eAdvance’s Spark Schools give some sense of what Pearson is trying to do in Africa, India and worldwide – under price the market to disrupt existing educational institutions so Pearson companies can move in, take over, and gobble up profits.

 

“SPARK Schools has bold aspirations to disrupt the South African education system through introducing an innovative learning methodology to the African continent. In the SPARK Schools model, students split their time between digital content that adapts in difficulty to their learning and classroom interaction based on best practice pedagogy. Importantly, the blended model also allows eAdvance to deliver high quality education at an affordable price.” It will “build eight low-cost blended learning schools over the next three years, and more than 60 in the next ten.”

Pearson is also using mergers to expand its markets and influence. In December 2013, Pearson agreed to purchase Grupo Multi, an English-language training company in Brazil, to accelerate growth in Latin America.

 

Pearson uses the desperation of Third World countries to modernize to get its foot in the door and to act without regulation or oversight. Up until now, about sixty percentof Pearson’s sales were in the United States, however expansion stalled in this country because of lower freshman enrollments in U.S. colleges and a slowdown in textbook markets. Sales also suffered in Great Britain because of curriculum changes and the company spent about $200 million organizing its push into foreign digital markets.

 

As a result of these issues, Moody’s Investors Service, a ratings agency, lowered its evaluation of Pearson from stable to negative. “We are changing the outlook to negative as Pearson’s debt protection metrics for fiscal year 2013 are likely to weaken considerably,” says According to Gunjan Dixit, a Moody’s Assistant Vice President-Analyst, “This view reflects Pearson’s tough trading conditions, particularly in North America and the UK; the greater-than-originally-anticipated spending on restructuring; and certain start-up costs for new contracts in higher education and increased provisions for returns.” According to Moody’s, key challenges for Pearson in the future include (1) the fiscal health of U.S. states and international government funding bodies, in its schools and higher education businesses; (2) difficult market conditions in the U.S. education market; (3) the vulnerability of its Financial Times group; and (4) the accelerating transition of trade book publishing to electronic formats. Pearson stockholders were so disappointed in the company’s financial performance that in April 2014, shareholders protested against excessive executive bonuses.

 

In the United States, Pearson faces other problems that may be related to over expansion, the inability to deliver what was promised, and possible under the table agreements on contracts. In Florida, state officials blamed Pearson Education when at least a dozen Florida school districts were forced to suspend online testing this April because students had trouble signing in for the test. for the situation. Other problems included slowness when students tried to download test questions or submit answers and an inexplicable warning message that students should notify their teacher or proctor about a problem that did not exist. “State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart complained to Pearson that the “failure is inexcusable. Florida’s students and teachers work too hard on learning to be distracted by these needless and avoidable technological issues.”

 

Pearson blamed the test problems on a third-party hosting service provider. However, in recent years Pearson has had similar problems with computerized tests in Florida before as well as in other states. In 2011, Wyoming fined Pearson $5.1 million because of software problems and then switched back to paper tests. In April, Pearson was also forced to acknowledge and apologize for “intermittent disruptions to some of our online testing services.” This time they blamed a different sub-contractor.

 

In the meantime, the American Institutes for Research is challenging the awarding of a lucrative common core test development contract to Pearson. While the complaint is being brought in New Mexico, it has national ramification. The contract is for developing test-items, test delivery, reporting results, and analysis of student performance for states that are part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two main consortia designing tests linked to the common-core standards. The plaintiff claims the process for awarding the contract was designed to specifically benefit Pearson, which ended up being the only bidder, and was therefore illegal.

 

In New York State, parents and teachers are outraged because teachers and building administrators are forced to sign statements promising not to discuss or release questions about new Pearson “Common Core” aligned high-stakes tests. In the past, questions from past state high school “Regents” exams were posted on the State Education website. Now Pearson, which is paid $32 million by New York State to create the tests is demanding a payment of an additional $8 million to permit the state to post the questions.

 

 

In New Zealand, a group called Save Our Schools NZ is protesting the misuse of PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment) tests and rankings by national education departments. They charge “Pisa, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings, despite research showing that enduring changes in education practice take decades, not a few years, to come to fruition.” Pearson holds the contract to prepare PISA assessments starting in 2015.

 

For all its claims about efficacy, Pearson is not a very efficient company. For all its claims about valuing education, the only thing Pearson appears to value is profit.

 

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 11549

How to Pass a Pearson Test   Leave a comment

 

  I thought this post was so funny (and vital) that I had to ask the author for permission to repost it.   It was previously published at Huffington Post.

 

How to Pass a Pearson Test or Peeling the Pearson Pineapple

by Alan Singer

 

On Tuesday, June 3, 2014, high school students in New York State take the first new series of math and English exams that are supposed to be aligned with the national Common Core standards. Anticipating that students will have difficulty with the new tests, the State Education Department plans to score exams so that approximately the same percentage of students pass who passed similar tests in the past. I hope it is not too late to offer students, teachers, and State Education some help.

 

I confess. I have a super-power. It is taking tests. I can pass any test on any subject without knowing anything as long as it is written in English. Other languages are my kryptonite. I figured out geometry on the tenth grade standardized final. I passed the AP bio test without doing any work. As with most super powers, taking tests is both a blessing and a curse. I do not get the highest scores and I do not learn very much, but I do pass.

 

I have been applying my super-power to analyzing the latest wave of Pearson-created Common Core aligned high stakes assessments for students and student teachers and I realize they are designed just for me. They are skills based tests that do not require any knowledge. In fact, knowledge interferes with your ability to pass a Pearson test.

 

The United States is its biggest market and Pearson makes a lot of money selling Common Core aligned tests, curriculum, and test review books and programs. It stands to make even more as it develops, markets, assesses new Common Core PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) content area exams. Sixteen states, plus the District of Columbia, are scheduled to participate in PARCC testing.

 

As a public service these are my FREE test taking tips that will save parents and school districts a lot of money and students and teachers a lot of anguish.

 

1. Know the jargon they use in the instructions. For example, “selected-response items” means multiple-choice questions. I do not know why they do not just call them multiple-choice.

2. Do all the steps and read all the passages before looking at the choices. The answer, no matter how inaccurate or ridiculous, is in the reading passage. You are not looking for the best answer. You are looking or their answer.

3. In math, be confident in your answer. If your answer is not among the choices, figure out which of their answers has the same value as yours.

 

Most of us who followed the Pearson Pineapple controversy thought the reading passage on the 2013 8th grade reading test about the pineapple that challenged a rabbit (hare) to a race and questions about which animal was wisest were absurd. The problem, at least in my case, was that at the time I really did not understand what Pearson and the Common Core were trying to do. Now I think I have it figured out. The passage and questions were absurd on purpose.

 

Pearson and Common Core are not testing what you know, what you think, or what you can explain. They are testing what you can find in the passage and whether you follow directions. They select reading passages using a mathematical formula or algorithm based on what they call “text complexity” which measures the length of sentences and the use of obscure vocabulary. There is no meaningful content on a Pearson Common Core test, it is all about peeling the pineapple.

 

Ironically, I found the same approach on Pearson’s Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) for teachers. The sample question has an extended reading passage about Gertrude Stein from a book by Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable.

The first question is: “In Paragraph 1, the repetition of the phrase “well-rounded, prosperous” emphasizes . . . ” I always think of “well-rounded” and “prosperous” as positive attributes and when I looked at the choices I leaned toward choice A, “the sophistication of Stein’s family.”

 

But Pearson says the correct answer is choice B, “the predictability of life Stein rejected.” Although well-rounded does not mean predictable, if you look at paragraph 1, “well-rounded” is equated with “stability,” boring sameness, qualities that Stein rejected.

In other words, if you know what well-rounded means, you get the answer wrong. Just as with the Pearson pineapple, the test is not about knowing the right answer, it is about finding their answer in the text. I can hardly wait for the new Pearson PARCC tests based on reading skills that I expect will be missing all content.

 

Actually I should not have been so surprised to discover that Pearson, PARCC, and Common Core ignore knowledge. In a promotional video for the national Common Core standards, David Coleman, who the New York Times described as an “architect of the common core curriculum standards,” discussed how James Madison explained the regulation of political factions in Federalist Paper #51. The only problem was that Federalist Paper #10 is about the regulation of political factions. Federalist Paper #51 is about checks and balances and the structure of the national government. But he was only off by forty-one essays.

I am a little concerned that it took me so long to figure out the problem with these Pearson tests. I just worry my super-power may be slipping.​

 

 

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 11549
(P) 516-463-5853 (F) 516-463-6196

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Thanks to Alan Singer for this post.  For those wanting to read more from Alan Singer, look for his book, Education Flashpoints.  The book draws on his widely read Huffington Post columns —rated one of the top educational blogs in the United States.    http://www.amazon.com/Education-Flashpoints-Fighting-Americas-Schools/dp/0415743850

New York Professor’s Run-in With Common Core Promotion Machine   4 comments

alan singer

New York Professor’s Run-in With NY Common Core Promotion Machine

Guest Post by Professor Alan Singer

This story is posted with permission from Professor Singer, and the article is also posted at the Huffington Post under the title: “Questions about Common Core – NYS Education Officials Do Not Want to Hear About It.”

In December 2013, the New York Regents, the policy making body for education in the state, formed a sub-committee to evaluate implementation of the national Common Core Standards. Merryl Tisch the chair of the Board of Regents and John King, the state’s educational commissioner, are both strong advocates for the rapid introduction of the Common Core accompanied by high-stakes testing of students and the evaluation of teachers based on student test scores. However, in a series of public forums across the state, Commissioner King was sharply criticized by both parents and teachers. Some Regents, including Roger Tilles who represents Long Island and Geraldine Chapey of Belle Harbor in Queens, have also been very critical of implementation of Common Core.

New York State United Teachers, the umbrella organization representing unionized teachers in New York State responded to the campaign to rapidly introduce Common Core and new high-stakes tests by calling for the immediate removal of the Commissioner of Education John King by the Board of Regents and postponement of Common Core graduation requirements. This move is supported by Randi Weingarten, president of the national union, the American Federation of Teachers. In addition, a coalition of 45 educational organizations called the NYS Allies for Public Education has launched a campaign to have four new members elected to the state educational governing body, all of whom have expressed reservations about the rapid implementation of Common Core in the state. Members of the Board of Regents are elected by the New York State Legislature.

In May 2011, in an essay published in New York Newsday and on the Washington Post website, Regent Tilles raised concerns about Common Core that have been largely ignored by its proponents for the last three years. Tilles argued “Student learning is complex” and “impacted by many factors which include, but are not limited to, prior learning, family background, level of poverty, classroom and school culture, access to private tutors, learning disabilities, access to adequate resources, and even school district governance,” none of which are taken into account by the Common Core standards, the testing program, or teacher evaluations. He objected to “using the student results of New York’s standardized tests to evaluate teachers” because it contributed to “the corrupting influence of high stakes on the education programs.” He was especially concerned that the focus of Common Core and the high-stakes assessments on reading and math skills was “snuffing out the creative thinking” and worried “that all of the above is an attempt to promote charter schools and dismantle the public school system.”

There are legitimate questions about how serious Tisch and King are about rethinking Common Core. At the same time as Tisch announced formation of the Regents sub-committee, Tisch and King, in an opinion article published in the Albany Times-Union declared “We want to hear from teachers, parents, and students about what’s working and what could work better. But we also know that moving forward with Common Core is essential.”

As far as I can see, there is little real discussion going on about the Common Core standards. Politicians and corporations who are selling the standards to the public and forcing it on teachers and schools ignore both supportive suggestions and opposition. The story I report here says that the champions of Common Core, no matter what they say, do not want to hear any other ideas.

In New York State, Common Core is promoted by EngageNY, a website “created and maintained by the New York State Education Department,” and a secretive non-governmental group called the Regents Research Fund. As the EngageNY website makes clear, its primary purpose is promoting Common Core.

“The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is engaging teachers, administrators, and education experts across the State and nation in the creation of curriculum resources, instructional materials, professional development materials, samples of test questions, test specifications, and other test-related materials that will help with the transition to the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).”

The actions of the Regents Research Fund are a little harder to pin down. The Albany Times Union calls it a “shadow government” within the New York State Education Department. It is supported by $19 million in donations from wealthy individuals and foundations.

On the EngageNY website and for the Regents Research Fund the chief salesperson for Common Core is Kate Gerson, a very attractive woman who appears to have minimal teaching experience. Although she is not an actual employ of the State Education Department, Gerson represents them at Common Core meetings across the state and is the featured Common Core cheerleader on EngageNY online videos. The Times Herald-Record, based in Middletown, New York, described Gerson’s performance at a staff development workshop for teachers in the Monticello school district this way.

“With a microphone dangling under her chin, Kate Gerson paced the front of the high school auditorium in sweater dress and heeled boots, prodding teachers to rethink the Gettysburg Address. She used the word “text” over and over again.”

kate ny

Gerson’s advice to teachers was “Try it out; get smarter at it. This is hard work. Pick a text and dive in, and build a unit around a text that you are devoted to, that you have to teach anyway, and teach it differently.”

You can view Gerson’s traveling show at the EngageNY website. In a fifteen minute video titled “Quick Explanation of the Shifts by Kate Gerson,” she basically tells the audience that they are already doing Common Core in small bursts, but they now have to do it more systematically and have students think more deeply about what they read.

I did not have many disagreements with the goals Gerson presented in her show, but I was very surprised by two things. It was very unclear how deeper literacy was going to be achieved in classrooms where students have serious academic difficulty. Mostly she just repeated educational clichés – we were going to have a shift in focus, text-based instruction, rigorous standards, and students would think deeply and marshal evidence. Teaching these academic skills to real students in actual classrooms was almost a hopeful wish on her part.

I was also struck by Gerson’s lack of knowledge about the English Language Arts curriculum in New York State. According to Gerson, as part of the new rigor and higher standards, students would read To Kill a Mocking Bird in eighth grade rather than in ninth grade. But students always read To Kill a Mocking Bird in eight grade because that is when they learned about the Civil Rights movement in social studies. Students were also going to read Achebe’s book Things for Apart in 10th grade rather than in12th grade, but students always read Things Fall Apart in 10th grade because that is when they study the impact of European imperialism on traditional societies in Global History.

Gerson is promoted as a former New York City teacher and school principal who brings legitimate educational credentials and experience to the discussion of Common Core. According to her LinkedIn site, Gerson has a B.A. in Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona and a M.A in Language Education from Indiana University. She began her career as a teacher in Indiana, but only worked in New York City for two years at a transfer school for over-aged-under-credited students before leaving for an organization called New Leaders for Schools where she worked from 2007 to 2010. Gerson is also associated with Frederick Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies at theAmerican Enterprise Institute, which pushes free market pro-business solutions to educational and social issues.

Gerson will be the keynote speaker at an Uncommon Core at a conference in Binghamton, New York on March 14, 2014.

alan singer small pic

I was also invited by conference organizers to speak there because of my Huffington Posts on Common Core where I am critical of Common Core, but also offer practical suggestions and lesson ideas on how it can be useful in the classroom. For example, I recently posted a blog on Huffington Post with quotations from two speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. where he offers a more radical critique of American society.

My position on Common Core is that it is useful to teachers and schools as a guideline but not as a mandated set of skills that must be achieved in a specific time frame by every student. I am also disturbed that the almost universal focus on skills acquisition will interfere with the teaching of subject content. AsRegent Tilles argued, to be most effective, Common Core Standards must be separated from high-stakes testing for students and the evaluation of teachers. State Education needs to provide teachers with sample material that defines what they mean by “college and career ready,” but scripted lessons that inhibit teacher creativity and eliminate flexibility are not useful. Among the things I like about Common Core is that it encourages the Horizontal (across subject) and Vertical (across grade level) Integration of instruction and it supports systematic planning and conscious decision-making by teachers. However, to the extent that it is tied into the privatization of curriculum, staff development, student assessment, and teacher preparation it is undermining public education.

The problem with the invitation to speak at the Binghamton conference with Gerson is that the conference organizers were not be able to pay an honorarium despite the fact that I would have a ten-hour round trip drive from New York City and have to spend the night. This basically meant I am unable to participate.

meryl ny

Merryl Tisch (non-responder)

I emailed Merryl Tisch, Chair of the New York State Board of Regents, Education Commissioner Jon King, Ken Wagner, Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment, and Educational Technology at the New York State Education Department, and Kate Gerson and Joshua Skolnick of the Regents Research Fund in an effort to secure financial support to participate in the conference. I did not get a response from Tisch, King, or Skolnick. Gerson emailed back that she had forwarded my request to Skolnick and Wagner.

ken w

Ken Wagner, Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment, and Educational Technology and a person in charge of implementing Common Core standards in New York State

I received a curt response from Wagner, Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment, and Educational Technology at the New York State Education Department. According to his LinkedIn page, Mr. Wagner has a very interesting resume. He has worked at the State Education Department in different capacities since 2009. Before that he was a district administrator in Suffolk County for three years, an assistant principal and a principal for five years, and a school psychologist for four years. However, Mr. Wagner rose to become Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment, and Educational Technology and a person in charge of implementing Common Core standards in New York State without ever having been a classroom teacher.

Mr. Wagner emailed me: “There is no funding available. Perhaps you should cancel.”

I later emailed Mr. Wagner the Common Core based lesson on the speeches of Martin Luther Kin, Jr. that I had developed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorations in local secondary schools.

This time he responded:

Hi Alan,

Please remove me from your list.

Thanks a bunch,

Ken

I emailed him back:

“I thought you were a state official and this was a public email address?

Any update on the honorarium so that I can present on Common Core at the Binghamton Uncommon Core Conference?”

Mr. Wagner responded, denying funding for the conference again, and this time accusing me of sending spam in violation of federal law:

From: Ken Wagner

Sent: Saturday, January 11, 2014 8:28 PM

To: Alan J. Singer

Subject: Re: The Other Martin Luther King – Alan’s Latest Huffington Post

No worries, thanks.

It is generally best practice for authors to provide their readers with options and choice. Self-publishing has changed all that, I suppose.

You should be aware, however, that sending unsolicited email without the ability to decline meets the federal definition of Spam.

As I said, funding is not an option.

Ken

At least in my experience, education officials in New York State are not interested in what anyone else has to say about Common Core.

Post-It Note: I checked the federal definition of spam. According to the CAN-SPAM act of 2003 spam is “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”

I fail to see how a lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr. aligned with Common Core that I am making freely available to teachers and available to state curriculum officials constitutes spam under this law, but I guess Mr. Wagner, as an expert on Common Core, is able to understand the statute’s deeper meaning.

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Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership 128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 11549

Beware of Pearson’s Plan for Education   4 comments

sir michael barber

pearson

I am fascinated with the increasing convergence of honest right-wing thinkers and honest left-wing thinkers in the context of protecting legitimate, locally controlled education and fighting Common Core and its data-mining tentacles. Professor Singer points out in his article not only what Pearson is doing in England and in the U.S., but how these “curious connections” that form alliances between “exceedingly rich men” whether socialists or capitalists, who, together with government boards, are taking over education, literally all over the globe.

People on both sides of the political aisle are feeling similar alarm at the partnershipping of governments and private corporations that is taking away the voice of the voter as it hands over the keys of the American (in this case, also the British) school bus –to that wild and crazy driver known as Sir Michael Barber, CEA of Pearson, self-proclaimed revolutionary.

The article below is reposted with permission from Alan Singer of Hofstra University, and it’s been posted at the Huffington Post. I actually prefer and recommend reading it at the Huffington Post, where helpful links are embedded, so you can fact-check the article for yourself.

For more information about Pearson’s CEA, Sir Michael Barber, and what he stands for, there are several articles I’ve posted previously here and here and here.

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Beware! Pearson’s Plan for Education Is Coming to a Country Near You

By Alan Singer, Hofstra University Social Studies Educator, New York

In the United States school districts are traditionally organized and funded locally. Parents, teachers, and school and district administrators usually only think about state and national issues when they feel pressed from above by state imposed budget cuts or federal demands for curriculum change and new assessments. Much of the opposition to Common Core and Race to the Top arose because parents, teachers, and administrators felt local prerogatives were being undermined by unwarranted pressure from above. But an examination of the Pearson publishing mega-giant’s plan to control public education in Great Britain makes clear, the greatest threat to local initiatives in public education may be from powerful global corporations. Beware! The Pearson Plan for education in the United Kingdom may be coming to a country near you — unless we can stop it now.

In March 2013, The Guardian, one of the leading British daily newspapers, published an opinion piece charging that “unelected oligarchs” and “private sponsors” were taking over the British school system. The academy schools discussed in this article sound very similar to the charter school movement in the United States.

“All over England, schools are being obliged to become academies: supposedly autonomous bodies which are often “sponsored” (the government’s euphemism for controlled) by foundations established by exceedingly rich men. The break-up of the education system in this country, like the dismantling of the National Health Service, reflects no widespread public demand. It is imposed, through threats, bribes and fake consultations, from on high.”

The “academy” alternative was supposed to be reserved for failing schools, but according to the article, the reality in Britain is much different. A Department of Education memo makes clear “it is our ambition that academy status should be the norm for all state schools.” Another memo recommended transferring academies out of the state-run school system into the private sector. To achieve these goals, “academy” sponsors appear to be targeting good schools with temporary problems that they can claim to have turned around.

For example, from 2007-2012 the Roke primary school in the community of Croydon in south London was rated “outstanding” by the British government’s quality control department known as OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). However, after several senior staff retired and a computer failure caused a delay in reporting data to inspectors, the school received a “Notice to Improve.” Although the school subsequently met the required standards, it was notified by the British Department for Education that it would be turned into an academy.

In September 2012, the British Department for Education held a closed meeting with school administrators and reportedly told them that if they did not immediately accept the demand to become an “academy,” they would be fired by the local school authority. They threatened that if local school officials did not carry out the order, it would be replaced by an interim board of governors that would. They also warned school administrators not to inform parents about the meeting or the decision.

School administrators at Roke acquiesced and selected the local secondary school as its partner. However, on the last day of the fall term, the Department of Education rejected the plan and paired the school with the “Harris Foundation,” a group founded by the chairman of a large retail store chain with close ties to the ruling Conservative Party. When parents learned of these events they rebelled and unanimously voted to partner with the secondary school. But the community was overruled by the British schools minister, who happens to be a wealthy businessman, a major donor to the British Conservative Party, and a sponsor of the academies plan.

In many ways the strategy for promoting academies in Great Britain is similar to the strategy for promoting charter schools in the United States. Working class and poor families are told the academies are a solution to educational inequality. The academies are also exempt from following national curriculum and are not answerable to local governments. According to one British commentator who has carefully documented the history of the academies, “When threats don’t work, the department resorts to bribery. Schools receive up to an extra £65,000 or over $100,000 in state funds, if they become academies. As a result, the academies program exceeded its budget by £1 billion ($1.6 billion) from 2010 to 2012.

The Guardian is especially concerned about the influence of Pearson, the educational publishing giant, over the so-called educational reform movement in Great Britain. Pearson, originally based in Great Britain but with most of its current revenue from the United States, is at the center of the academy movement. In partnership with the Royal Society of Arts, Pearson funded a study the Guardian suspects will be used to demonstrate the success of the academies scheme.

In addition, Pearson, through its Edexcel subsidy, is the largest testing company in Great Britain with sales totally over £317 million in 2010. It also has a contract to grade achievement tests for English 11-year-olds. Not surprisingly, Pearson sponsored another study to show how the exam system promotes “high standards.” Other Pearson ventures designed to shape educational policy and maybe also boost Pearson corporate profits include “Pearson Think Tank,” funding Oxford University’s Centre for Educational Assessment, and the “Pearson school model.” The “Pearson school model” includes a computer-based curriculum that can be sold to schools, dubbed “the Always Learning Gateway.”

The “Pearson Think Tank” is an excellent example of the way Pearson’s not-for profit policy and research programs and its for-profit corporate activities intersect. According to its website, “Although the Pearson Think Tank is funded by Pearson, it is independent from its commercial activities. We are conscious of any conflicts of interest and operate accordingly, and final decisions about what and when we publish reside with us.” However, “Where possible we try to draw on Pearson’s networks, knowledge and expertise to gather new evidence about educational quality and access that is of interest to the wider sector.”

But the reality is that the Pearson Think Tank is actively promoting Pearson corporate interests. The think tank is working in partnership with the British Academies Commission to examine the implications of the “mass academisation,” or privatization, of Britain’s state run schools. Between May 2010 and November 2012 the number of academized schools increased from about 200 to almost 2,500. As with other Pearson supported “studies,” it somehow aligns with corporate goals. In this case its goal is “to develop a practical but compelling vision for the future of UK academisation” so that “young people experience the benefits of academisation.” The Commission’s report is titled, “Unleashing greatness: Getting the best from an academised system.”

The Pearson Think Tank has also conducted “research” to support the use of Pearson high-stakes tests in the United Kingdom; to promote the type of “enterprise and entrepreneurship education” provided by the Pearson UK online university; and to support “Pearson’s Teacher Training and Certification Programme.”

In praise of Pearson for-profits high-stakes testing programs, the Pearson Think Tank quoted Michael Gove, Great Britain’s Conservative Party Education Secretary who defended the tests as “tools of social mobility” based on human nature because “humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges”; sources of “satisfaction and contentment” for students on “a job well done”; and the basis to “ensure that a solid base of learning is complete before progressing on to further learning.” The tests are great because they “drive creativity” and “signal that a person is ready to take on greater challenge and responsibility.” Unfortunately, there was no research cited to support these over-the-top claims.

The Guardian article quoted Stephen Ball, a professor of the sociology of education at London University’s Institute of Education and an expert on education business, on Pearson’s “educational” ventures. According to Ball:

“They want to offer products and services in all areas of school practice: assessment, pedagogy, curriculum and management, and they want to create the possibility for that through policy work. They want to have indirect influence in policy to create opportunities for business expansion. It’s a very well thought-out business strategy.”

As we know from recent revelations by the Attorney General of New York State, Pearson operates the same way in the United States blurring the lines between its not-for-profit Foundation and its for-profit company. As a penalty and to avoid prosecution the Pearson Foundation agreed to pay $7.5 million into a fund managed by the Attorney General to support education in high-needs schools. When I posted a Huffington Post “Pearson Caught Cheating, Says Sorry, But Will Pay” on the Pearson Foundation Facebook page, Foundation officials responded:

“Pearson and the Foundation maintain we have always acted with the best intentions and complied with the law. However, we recognize that there were times when the governance of the Foundation and its relationship with Pearson could have been clearer and more transparent. The Foundation has adopted a number of reforms to enhance operations and programs and further its charitable mission.”

In the United States, Pearson donates to the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama White House. John Podesta, Founder and Chair of the Center for American Progress, was Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House and is an important advisor to President Obama. Reports issued by the Center for American Progress have advocated in favor of the national Common Core Standards, changes in teacher preparation programs including alternative certification routes, and the validity of high stakes student assessments, all areas where Pearson for-profit is marketing products and services. While the Center for American Progress is considered a “liberal” think tank, it has some curious conservative and business connections. For example, Ulrich Boser, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress where he analyzes education issues also serves as research director of Leaders and Laggards, a joint project of the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

I do not think Pearson’s problems in New York State were related to unclarity at all. What is happening in Great Britain makes it perfectly clear, Pearson’s not for-profit activities serve the global profit making goals of the Pearson company. If parents, teachers and students do not organize to resist corporate incursions into American public education, the Pearson Plan for Education will be coming to a country, state, city, town, and school near you!

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Thank you, Alan Singer.

Gideon’s Math Homework   6 comments

Reposted with permission from Alan Singer of Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

Gideon, my grandson, is almost nine-years old and starting fourth grade this year. He loves soccer, baseball, online videos, hip-hop, and school because that is where his friends are during the day. His attitude toward homework, and I suspect any school assignment, is to get it done fast so he can move on to more important and interesting things.

On last year’s New York State 3rd grade common core aligned math assessment Gideon scored in the proficient range, not the highest level, but not bad on a test where 70% of the students failed. I have been doing math homework with Gideon since school started and I noticed a couple of things that concern me about how math is being taught. I am not blaming his teachers or the school. I am certainly not blaming Gideon. But I worry that the problems he is having in math reflect the push for test prep for standardized tests.

The first problem is that Gideon seems to be convinced that there is only one right way to solve a problem and if he does not solve it that way he will be marked wrong. This problem he will get over either as he learns more about how the world works or becomes less interested in pleasing his teachers.

The second problem is a bit more serious to me as a teacher and grandparent. Instead of trying to understand a math problem and being willing to play with the numbers, Gideon is committed to remembering a long, complicated sequence of steps to finding a solution. If he makes a mistake somewhere in the sequence he gets the answer incorrect, but he does not recognize it as incorrect, because his goal was following the prescribed steps, not coming up with a result that makes sense.

Kids are supposed to be learning to estimate from the start of elementary school so they can stop and say this cannot possibly be the answer, but estimation requires both feeling comfortable with the relationships between numbers and a willingness to experiment and speculate, qualities that appear to be neglected in the test prep math curriculum.

One night recently Gideon had to figure out how many tens are in 540. He set up number groups. There are 10 tens in one hundred so he had five groups of 10 tens each. There are 4 tens in forty. He then added 10+10+10+10+10+4=54. I did not have a problem so far. But then he had to figure out how many tens were in 370 and he started to set up his number groups again instead of just saying if there are 54 tens in 540, there must be 37 tens in 370. He did not see or even look for the relationship between the two problems. They were separate entities.

The third question was how many twenties are in 640 and again he started by setting up his number groups. I asked him how many tens were in 640 and if there were more tens or twenties, but his response was “That’s not the way we are supposed to do it.”

Maybe that was what he was told, maybe he was misinterpreting instructions, but in either case, he would not play with the numbers and try to figure out a solution on his own. He was memorizing rules, not learning math.

Initially I thought the problem here might just be Gideon’s stubbornness and anxiousness to be finished, after all there were other more rewarding things to be done. But email exchanges on the Long Island “Middle School Principals” listserv (principals-ms@nassauboces.org) point towards much more serious problems with the way math is being taught and assessed in the New World of Common Core and high-stakes assessments.

A principal at one affluent Nassau County middle school reported that in his school 235 eighth grade students took accelerated ninth grade math and 190 of them, 78.6% of the students, earned a grade of 80% or better. But inexplicably, 82 out of the 190 high scorers, 43%, scored less than proficient on the 8th-grade common math assessment. Three other middle school principals from similar districts reported the same phenomenon.

A fifth principal from another affluent high-performing Nassau County school district described the state math assessments as a “Kafkaesque system” that “does not make sense,” as a “fake testing system” that “hurts kids” and their teachers. He has middle school students who passed high school math examines with mastery level scores but who failed the common core standardized test and now must be assigned to remedial classes. He also cannot figure out how when his school had the highest seventh grade English and math assessment results in the state on the common core test, only one out of six of his seventh grade ELA and math teachers was rated highly effective.

He charged that the current instructional and testing system “only enriched consultants, textbook companies and service corporations.” He called it a “fiasco” that “only ensures further unfunded mandates, pushes schools to become test-prep centers, further institutionalizes an over-testing system that terribly hurts kids, and enshrines an unfair evaluation system that actually makes it harder to terminate unsatisfactory teachers.”

Actually, I do not find the lack of correlation between the 9th-grade algebra test scores and the 8th-grade common core assessments inexplicable. I think the same phenomenon is at work that I saw in Gideon’s homework. Students are not learning math, they are being prepped for tests to maximize test scores.

When you put different types of questions on the math test they are stymied because the procedures they were taught to follow do quite line up with the problems and they either do not know how, or are afraid to, adjust. They do not estimate, they do not hypothesize, they do not “do the math,” they just get lost in the steps and get the answers incorrect.

I remember learning math the old-fashioned way, my friends and I had fun figuring out things we actually wanted to know and were very competitive at it. Back in the days before calculators and computers, the newspapers only updated baseball batting averages on Sundays, except for the league leaders. My friends and I were big baseball fans, our elementary and middle schools were about a mile from Yankee Stadium, and we needed to know the latest batting averages for Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, and “The Moose” Bill Skowron, so we calculated them every day during lunch (and sometimes when we were not paying attention in classes). It was not that we liked math –we loved baseball. Math was just a tool.

I walked into my high school 10th grade statewide geometry math test without having paid attention for most of the year (Bill Cosby used to tell the joke that when he was a kid his family was so poor he couldn’t afford to pay attention). But I was comfortable with math, numbers and problem solving and actually figured out geometry while taking the test itself.

I like finding patterns in math, I enjoy problem solving, and I appreciate the way it helps me to think systematically and provide evidence to support my conclusions. But I am convinced my comfort level is rooted in my love of baseball and the Yankees.

The other night I asked a group of college students if Robbie Cano is batting .310 and goes one for three with a sharp single, two fly outs, and a base on balls, what happens to his batting average. Some of the students had no idea, some of them started to calculate, but I knew his batting average went up, by just a little bit, because I know the relationships between numbers. That is what I am trying to teach Gideon.

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
128 Hagedorn Hall / 119 Hofstra University / Hempstead, NY 11549

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Thanks to Professor Singer for this article which is also published at Huffington Post.

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