Friday, 21 February 2014

Pearson--a digital hydra in education

Pearson is the vertically integrated corporate 'answer' to every educational need

Pearson is a UK-based company, self described as the "world's leading learning company."  Its owner is the company that publishes the Economist, a newsmagazine aimed at a transnational corporate audience.  Pearson was also the publisher of Penguin books until it spun off Penguin to merge to another major book trade publisher.  Pearson's strategy now is to concentrate on education as its source of income and profits.
The biggest corporate players in education before the digital age were textbook publishers.  The creation of ebooks and the use of online information sources have dramatically reduced the production of textbooks as well as encyclopaedias.  Britannica has stopped printing its encyclopaedia and most textbook publishers have seen rapid declines in revenues from that source.

Pearson has been the most successful of the former textbook publishers to develop a revenue stream from digital sources, although others are going digital and merging with other companies.  Pearson has achieved growth through diversification and its revenue growth has been supported by moving into what it calls "emerging markets," particularly in Latin America.  Pearson expands its penetration into edtech by buying  up both established companies and supports potential developments through its edtech "accelerator program."

The Hydra nature of digital Pearson
Pearson has a product for every stage of the education process, building on and expanding the "harmonization" and globalization of education.  Pearson talks about the "education industry;"  others call it the "education-industrial complex," drawing on warnings about the influence of the military-industrial complex.

*Curriculum and standards--the Pearson Foundation played a role with the Gates Foundation in the creation of the Common Core Curriculum being imposed in many states in the U.S.  The non-profit Pearson Foundation was fined $7.7 million in New York for using Foundation funds to create resources sold by the Pearson corporation.

*Courses for the Common Core Curriculum--the Pearson Foundation, in conjunction with the Gates Foundation, created several online K-12 courses offered on a free basis.  These, however, lead to another set of courses that are offered for sale by the Pearson Corporation
*Digital resources--it continues to publish hardcover textbooks for part of the market, but has expanded to  etextbooks and a wide range of other digital teaching resources.   Pearson is the largest digital content provider for education.

*Sharing resources developed by teachers at no cost--Pearson provides an "open source" learning management system, "OpenClass," where teachers can post the courses and resources they have developed, providing content for Pearson at no cost for development of development of the resources. 

*Testing--it has developed standardized tests for state curriculum in the past and now for multiple states which have adopted the U.S. Common Core Curriculum.

*Test preparation--"MyLab" provides digital preparation for standardized tests, many of which are  produced by Pearson.

*Test cheats--New York has a contract with Pearson to look for irregularities in test results.

*Operation of schools--Pearson is investing 10 million in private schools in the "developing world" as well as Charter schools.

*Student Information Systems--PowerSchool, the Pearson student information system,  is used in many jurisdictions to hold information on students--demographic data, grades, test results, information on behavior and more.  It provides a dashboard for decision-makers using the data collected.

*Alternative high school examination--it offers a new test to be used in the US as a way of getting high school equivalency for those who have dropped out of attending school or have failed required courses for graduation.

*Teacher licensing test--Pearson, along with Stanford University,  has developed a Teacher Performance Assessment  to be used by teacher education institutions to identify those who should be allowed to become teachers.  In the United Kingdom, it offers "Pearson's Teacher Training and Certification Program."

*PISA--Pearson has a contract with the OECD to produce and administer the next international PISA examination with a focus on science in2015 as a computer-based exam.
*Recommendations for education reform--though its Economist  'intelligence reports' it gives advice to countries and school authorities on education policy based on PISA and other data--recommendations on curriculum, resources, student data, teacher education and the like.
This is a closed feedback loop--Pearson has a product for every stage of the education process with information systems that can make recommendations to Pearson for what it should develop or purchase and to make sales pitches disguised as recommendations to school authorities on content and policies.
[Marvel comics says of their Hydra that "Hydra is a world-wide subversive organization dedicated to global domination."]

Pearson acts as a quasi-government agency

As a company owned by shareholders, Pearson must place emphasis on profits as its primary objective.  In early 2014, when revenues were less than projected, the value of shares dropped significantly over night.  The primary motivation of a corporation in the "education industry" must be to make profits, not to engage in philosophical discussion of what a society wants from its education system and how it should be organized to meet social objectives.

Pearson doesn't just wait for customers to come to it.  According to Michelle Davis writing in Education Week, "Pearson Education has spent more than $6 million over the past decade lobbying at the federal level (in the U.S.)."  (Davis, 2013)

Diane Ravitch has commented that "Pearson is overstepping the bounds of the role of a profit-making business.  The corporation is acting as a quasi-government agency in several instances, but it is not a quasi-government agency:  it is a business that sells products and services.  What part of the field of education does Pearson not manage?." (Mansell, 2012)

Davis, M.  (2013). "Ed. Companies Exert Public-Policy Influence."  Downloaded April 4, 2013 from

Gutstein, D.  (2012).  "Pearson's plan to control education."  Downloaded February 7, 2014 from

Mansell, W.  (2012).  "Should Pearson, a giant multinational, be influencing our education policy?"  Downloaded July 23, 2012 from

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