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On Friday, a large majority of Pearson shareholders, in a non-binding vote, rejected a report granting a large raise and bonuses to corporate CEO John Fallon. This was the largest vote of no confidence in corporate leadership, a 61% no vote, in Great Britain since 2009. Fallon’s salary, bonus, incentives, and other benefits, went up by 20% last year to almost $2 million, despite record corporate loses and steep declines in the value of Pearson stock.
In a preemptive effort to manipulate stock prices on the London Exchange prior to the shareholders meeting, Fallon announced Pearson planned to sell off its North American textbook business and other school “products’ like envision Math and iLit. Unfortunately for America’s children, Pearson plans to continue to invest in online “virtual schools,” and high-stakes testing.
Fallon also declared that he used his entire 2016 £343,000 “bonus,” almost half a million U.S. dollars, to purchase additional Pearson stock. These moves boosted Pearson stock value on the London Exchange by more than 10%, but they were not enough to forestall the shareholders’ revolt.
According to an analysis by Leila Abboud of Bloomberg, for the last four years Pearson has been “stuck in a cycle of falling revenue, profit warnings, cost-cutting programs, and asset sales.” Pearson’s problems are the result of major corporate miscalculations. The U.S. higher education market is currently responsible for 25% of Pearson’s sales and 45% of its profits, but “students are increasingly rejecting expensive textbooks and turning to rental programs run by Amazon as well as cheaper online materials.” Fallon keeps promising that the company will return to profitability through “cost-cutting,” but the benefits “tend to be eaten up by declines in revenue as the business weakens.” In addition, Third World markets, where Parson invested heavily under Fallon’s leadership, have produced virtually zero profit.
While Fallon was trying to fend off angry shareholders inside the IET Conference Center in London, outside, teacher union opponents of Pearson’s global policies and their allies staged a protest rally where they released helium-filled balloons with images of Fallon’s face. Representatives from the National Union of Teachers (UK), the American Federation of Teachers (US), the South African Democratic Teachers Union, the Kenya National Union of Teachers, the Danish Union of Teachers, New Zealand Educational Institute and Uganda National Teachers’ Union, and Global Justice Now demanded that Pearson appoint new leadership to end its push for privatized schools in Africa and Asia, and build a sustainable business model that views public education as a fundamental human right, not a leverage point for profits.
Follow Alan Singer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReecesPieces8
You were stressed; your children were stressed; and the teachers in their school were stressed. But the ELA and Math tests are over and we don’t have to worry about the results until August. What we should be worrying about is who is marking them. Will graders be careful, thoughtful, and competent? Carelessly graded exams are worthless, and only serve to punish children, teachers, and schools. So who grades the tests?
Pearson advertises for test graders on the website Indeed.com. The advertisement below is from Pearson’s Austin, Texas scoring center. They want college graduates (or equivalency?), any degree, and they are willing to pay $13 an hour, almost as much as a customer associate earns at Walmart, but significantly less than our test grader would make at Costco or Home Depot. Their “highly qualified” graders, unable to find or hold jobs in low paying service industries will be expected “put aside personal biases,” evaluate “student responses to subject-related open-ended questions,” and “apply scoring guide according to customer requirements.”
Similar positions are also available at Pearson’s Charlotte, North Carolina and Hadley, Massachusetts grading centers. Questar Assessment, which designs and grades tests for New York State has similar ads with similar qualifications for seasonal test scorers, but their ad does not list the hourly wage. However, according to the website Glassdoor, salaries range between $12 and $15 an hour an hour.
In Florida, teacher and school administration candidates are protesting arbitrary certification tests that seem designed to produce high failure rates. According to a report by WPTV in West Palm Beach, since 2015 failure rates have significantly increased on the Florida Teacher Certification and Educational Leadership exams while Pearson profits from each failure. Up until 2009, the Florida Department of Education subsidized the tests, but no more. Candidates paid $25 to take each part of the multi-part tests and did not pay to retake a section that they failed. Pearson now charges test-takers up to $200 per section and an addition $20 to retake a section, an increase of 800%. Test-takers can appeal failing scores and pay $75 for a reevaluation. In January and February there were 871 appeals but only 15 scores were changed from fail to pass, less than 2%. Julie McCue, a veteran teacher with 21 years of classroom experience, a Master’s degree, and high evaluations from supervisors, is suing the Florida Department. Ms. McCue has failed the essay portion of the leadership exam four times with the exact same score and each of her grade appeals were rejected by Pearson. McCue believes the real failure is Pearson’s for hiring low paid unqualified test scorers.
A complete report on Pearson’s global activities by Alan Singer and Eustace Thompson of Hofstra University is posted by Education International and available online. Follow Alan Singer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReecesPieces8.
Powerful forces are at work shaping global education in both the North Atlantic core capitalist nations and regions historically referred to as the Third World. Neoliberal business philosophies and practices promoted by corporations and their partner foundations, supported by international organizations, financiers, and bankers, and welcomed, or at least tolerated by compliant governments, are trying to transform education from a government responsibility and social right into investment opportunities. They defend their actions as reforms designed to increase educational equity and achieve higher standards; where possible they seek out local community support. But the underlying motivation behind corporate educational reform is extending the reach of free market globalization and business profits.
An early twentieth century political cartoon from Puck magazine portrayed the Standard Oil Company as a giant octopus with tentacles encircling and corrupting national and state governments. The image can easily be applied to the British-based publishing company Pearson Education, a leader in the neo-liberal privatization movement. Pearson has tentacles all over the world shaping and corrupting education in efforts, not always successful, to enhance its profitability. Its corporate slogan is “Pearson: Always Learning,” however critics rewrite it as “Pearson: Always Earning.”
Pearson’s business strategy is to turn education from a social good and essential public service into a marketable for-profit commodity. Among other tactics to promote its products it manipulates United Nation Sustainable Development Goals as entry into global education markets. At a September 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Summit world leaders adopted a series of goals including the promise that by 2030 they would “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education” and that they would “substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries.”
Pearson justifies its push to dominate education worldwide as a campaign for “efficacy,” which it defines as “making a measurable impact on someone’s life through learning.” However, in the introduction to the document where they promote efficacy, Pearson CEO John Fallon makes it clear that the company expects to profit handsomely from the “huge opportunity offered by the growing evidence of what works, advancements in technology and our enhanced ability to harness the power of data.”
In the United States and the global-North, Pearson efficacy means marketing much maligned high-stakes tests that push rather than assess curriculum and learning and serve to promote other Pearson products. It is also big in selling data management programs of questionable value and digital platforms that are supposed to enhance instruction. In the global South, Pearson efficacy means selling “low fee”“Pay As You Learn” private schools to the poorest segments of society in Africa and Asia. Pearson makes its profit partly by hiring low paid unqualified people to work in the schools.
In the United States Pearson’s efforts in the United States have been marred by a series of scandals and challenged by a parent and teacher led movement against high-stakes testing. On a global scale, the corporate take-over and privatization of education in sub-Sahara Africa has been sharply criticized by United Nations officials and advocates for investment in public education. In a 2015 statement, 190 education advocates from 91 countries, called on governments in the under-developed/mis-developed world to stop education profiteers and the World Bank to stop financing these efforts. In May 2016, Kishore Singh, United Nations special Rapporteur on the right to education, described the out-sourcing of public education in Liberia to an American corporation as “unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligations.”
Despite its omnivorous appetite for profit, Pearson Education has suffered through a series of financial crises, the product of changing global economic realities, increasingly hostility to the Pearson brand, and corporate “missteps.” In 2015 its sales were down £4.5 billion ($6.5 billion) or about 5%; operating profit down £723 million ($1 billion) or about 3%; adjusted earnings per share between 2010-2015 fell about 2%; operating cash flow was down more than 15%; and share price on the London Stock Exchange was down 38.2%. In January 2016 Pearson, facing financial difficulties, announced it would eliminate 4,000 jobs, about 10% of its 40,000 global workforce.
In 2017 Pearson awarded CEO John Fallon a 20% combined bonus and pay increase even though revenues from the company’s United States higher education business were down by 18% and the company was slashing dividends it pays to investors. The news of the bonus, the dividend cut, and the investor rebellion drove Pearson’s stock share price down on the London exchange to £6.39, about $8.25, on April 28. Pearson stock was valued at £15 ($20) two years earlier, so mismanagement had wiped billions of dollars off the value of the company. In May 2017 at the annual shareholders meeting, in non-binding vote that was a repudiation of Pearson’s leadership, investors overwhelmingly rejected the payments to Fallon.
Twenty-year veteran Broward County, Florida teacher Julie McCue and physical teacher Daryl Bryant, who has taught at a charter school near Cape Canaveral for three years, are suing the Florida Department of Education (FDOE). In 2010, as part of its application for a federal Race to the Top grant, Florida proposed making teacher certification exams more difficult, supposedly to raise standards. The current examswere introduced in 2015. On the revised tests failure rates have soared by up to 30% on some sections. The passing rate on the essay portion of the Florida Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE) fell to 63% in 2015. Teachers working under temporary certification who fail the FTCE risk losing their jobs.
At a recent state board of education meeting Florida Education Commissioner Pamela Stewart defended the high failure rate on Florida teacher certification exams claiming the tests are “aligned to the standards that are being taught in the classroom which are appropriate.” But the FDOE has not produced evidence that the tests reliably predict teacher performance, which may be a basis for overturning them. In New York State multiple teacher certification exams were dismissed by the courts precisely because the State Education Department could not demonstrate that they actually measured teacher qualifications.
Julie McCue charges that the state is really using a flawed examine to deny teachers credentials and salary increases. Broward County claims to use a “pay-for-performance salary schedule,” but the reality is that no matter your education, experience, or classroom performance, teachers are denied raises if they do not pass the new state test.
McCue has failed the essay portion of the Florida Educational Leadership Examination (FELE) test four times since 2015. Each time, suspiciously, she received the exact same score, just one point below passing. The FELE test was created by the FDOE, but is administered and graded by testing mega-giant Pearson Education.
According to a report by WPTV in West Palm Beach, Pearson profits each time someone fails one of their exams. Prior to 2009, the Florida Department of Education subsidized test takers. Candidates paid $25 to take each part of the multi-part tests and did not pay to retake a section that they failed. Pearson now charges test-takers up to $200 per section, an increase of 800%, and an additional $20 to retake a section. Test-takers can appeal failing scores, but they have to pay $75 for a reevaluation.
At the day-long administrative hearing FDOE produced five “expert witnesses” to defend the testing process and Pearson sent its lawyers to observe. A representative of FDOE maintained that Pearson’s grading system is extremely detailed and thorough. FDOE’s attorney said “the idea of human error is beyond belief.” While one of the FDOE “expert witnesses” was a Florida school administrator, he is also, coincidently, a paid Pearson employee. During the past two years he reviewed 20-25 failing FELE essays and acknowledged he has never reversed a score. One hundred and sixty failing FELE test takers challenged their scores last year, and none were reversed by Pearson.
This must be the only time in test assessment history that grading is 100% reliable. I found an article on a Pearson website where they bragged that their Versant Technology when reading essays had an inter-rater reliability of 0.89, which was HIGHER than human inter-rater reliability, and is considered very high. But it still means that about 10% of the test grades were not consistent.
But there is another reason the FDOE expert witness’ scoring is invalid and the administrative judge should through the whole FDOE and Pearson gang out of court, reverse the failing grades, and recommend they be prosecuted. The test scorer testified that he had reviewed 20-25 failing FELE essays and never reversed a score. But if was only assigned to review failing exams that were being appealed, he already knew these test-takers had failed. Essentially he was being asked to confirm what FDOE and Pearson wanted confirmed. In a fair review, without bias, these tests would have been mixed in with ungraded exams and the reviewer would not know that any of them had already received a failing grade.
Testimony at the Florida administrative judicial hearing calls into question the grading of many Pearson “essay” exams. The Pearson/SCALE edTPA is used to evaluate student teachers by over 700 teacher education programs in forty states and is required for certification in sixteen states. It is a roughly sixty-page portfolio plus video that is subject to arbitrary grading practices, arbitrary practices that Pearson also denies.
The Florida administrative judge is expected to issue a preliminary ruling within a month. The judge’s decision is sent to the Florida Education Practices Commission that makes the final decision. I’m rooting for Julie and Daryl.
Follow Alan Singer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReecesPieces8