Nervous Pearson (Mis)Education Responds to Protests

Pearson (Mis)Education faces an assault on its operations from major British and American labor union pension funds. They plan to challenge company management at its general stockholders meeting on April 29, 2016 in London. The opposition group holds 40,000 voting shares and includes UNISON, one of Britain's largest trade unions with 1.3 million public service industry members, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, Trade Union Fund Managers, and 130 individual shareholders. The coalition will enter a resolution at the stockholders meeting calling on Pearson to "end its over-reliance on the education testing programme in the US, which has been affected by a recent change in the law and is also becoming increasingly unpopular."

The move has apparently unnerved higher echelons in Pearson (Mis)Education. They felt compelled to respond on the company website, promising to give the resolution "due consideration." Of course, before any "due consideration," Pearson dismissed the claims. Management argues the benevolence of their actions, that "Pearson has an important role to play in assisting public, private and other partners in improving outcomes." It also promises to continually review its business strategy so they can provide "better educational products and services around the world."

The company's call for the stockholders meeting specifically asks eligible voters to reject the pension fund proposal. "The board of directors believes that resolution 19 will not promote the success of, and is not in the best interests of, the company and its members as a whole. Your board therefore unanimously recommends that you vote AGAINST resolution 19, as the directors intend to do in respect of their own beneficial holdings." The resolution requires a 75 percent "yes" vote to be approved.

Much of the Pearson web response to the pension plan motion reads like a reading passage on one of Pearson close-reading Common Core aligned high-stakes standardized tests. The words don't quite make sense.

According to Pearson, yes, the company's share price fell 40 percent through December 31,2015, but then it rose 17 percent. And the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) no longer requires states to use Common Core aligned Pearson standardized tests, but business will be okay because they still have to use some assessments.

Although Pearson "administered approximately 50 million high stakes tests last year" in the United States, the U.S. test market only accounts for less than 10 percent of Pearson's global business. Oh, but we forgot to add in all the test aligned review books, textbooks, curriculum, and staff support or report what percentage of our profits are made off the U.S. testing industry.

Pearson's benevolence as a profit-making company also extends to creating a network of low cost private schools in the developing world, although it is unclear who can afford them or their impact on public education. In the Philippines, the $500 a year per student tuition charged at a Pearson school is far more than most economically disadvantaged Filipino families can afford. The lowest-income families in the Philippines would have to expend 40 percent of their annual household income to send one child.

There were also a number of issues the press release did not directly address.

On October 21, 2015 Bloomberg News called the Pearson stock slump on the London Stock Exchange "the biggest since at least 1988." In just two days, the value of Pearson's stock declined by $3.6 billion. CNN's Money website reported that Pearson's revenues have been stagnant since 2012.

In 2010, twenty six states were part of a national consortium that planned on using Pearson testing products to administer Common Core aligned PARCC exams. By August 2015 only seven states were still partnered with PARCC. With ESSA granting states more testing flexibility Pearson stands to lose even more "partners."

Internationally Pearson is also not doing very well. South Africa sharply cut back on the purchase of Pearson textbooks. In the Philippines, Pearson is under attack for undermining public education. Last summer, Mugwena Maluleke, General Secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), and a former math teacher and Principal of Tshwane's Rodney Mokoena Junior Secondary School, accused Pearson of "turning its back on free public education for all" in its efforts to "commercialise and privatise education at all levels."

In Los Angeles, the school district cancelled its contract to install Pearson software on Apple I-Pads. LAUSD also demanded, and received, a multimillion-dollar refund because Pearson could not deliver the math and English curriculum it promised.

In New York State, two Pearson teacher certification tests were thrown out by a federal court judge for discriminating against minority candidates. Meanwhile, on the latest test iteration, the tests are designed so that Pearson makes money ever time a teacher certification candidate fails. According to UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler "This means Pearson has little incentive to fix flawed exams, since they profit when students take and retake them. With four new teacher certification exams in New York State administered by Pearson, students can spend up to $1,000 or more to take and retake tests." The New York State Board of Regents is currently reevaluating its teacher certification program and tests and may abandon Pearson altogether.

Pearson is also being challenged by teacher education students at the City University of New York. They posted an online petition demanding the suspension of the Pearson administered teacher certification portfolio known as edTPA. The petition charges, and I agree, "There is no research or evidence to support that the edTPA is a reliable method for evaluating or choosing teacher candidates."

Questions and comments about the Pearson press release should be addressed to Laura Howe, Vice President, Media and Communities, at laura.howe@pearson.com.