When I warned before that public schools are succumbing to sales pitches made by corporations, I was taken to task by a handful of readers for exaggerating the magnitude of the problem (“Be Wary of Corporate Inroads Into Education,” Dec. 17, 2010; “Are Public Schools Supermarkets?” May 6, 2011). Perhaps the latest evidence will help change their minds (“Pearson’s plan to control education, Report to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation,” Jun. 30).
According to the investment research firm Sanford Bernstein & Co., Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has undertaken a series of steps that will “revolutionize how education is delivered to students around the world, starting with the United States.” It claims that its products and services “will raise student and teacher performance while at the same time cutting [sic] spending.” That’s an offer that no state can refuse. Truth to tell, if I were in a position of power, I too would be all ears. After all, if what Pearson says is true, it has manufactured a silver bullet.
But as the adage warns, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. What Pearson is selling falls into that category. Public schools have always contracted with big corporations for textbooks and for construction. There’s nothing at all wrong with that practice. However, the line in the sand between education and business is increasingly blurred. When that happens, curriculum and instruction no longer are in the hands of professional educators. Instead, they are items on corporate books. Texas provides a case study of how the matter plays out (“Education Inc., Texas Observer, Sept. 6, 2011).
Texas is not alone. Kentucky’s Education Department approved a $57 million contract with Pearson in Apr. 2011 to operate the state’s testing program. What raised a few eyebrows was that the award followed on the heels of a series of trips overseas for ten school superintendents paid for by the Pearson Foundation, a non-profit arm of Pearson (“New Questions About Trips Sponsored by Education Publisher,” The New York Times, Jan. 1). A spokeswoman for the state commissioner denied that the trips and the contract selection were in any way related. Pearson has used similar tactics in Illinois and in New York.
I’ll let readers decide for themselves if they should be concerned about Pearson’s inroads into public education. But I think this is only the beginning of a trend that will make education strictly a business. Beware of the consequences.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.