Pearson, one of the most recognizable names in the education business, is making a big play globally, according to a fascinating article at Wired, and it is drawing all sorts of attention from the all sides of the political spectrum. The game? Affordable, privatized education on a global scale.
Pearson would like to become education’s first major conglomerate, serving as the largest private provider of standardized tests, software, materials, and now the schools themselves.
To this end, the company is testing academic, financial, and technological models for fully privatized education on the world’s poor. It’s pursuing this strategy through a venture called the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Pearson allocated the fund an initial $15 million in 2012 and another $50 million in January 2015. Students in developing countries vastly outnumber those in wealthy nations, constituting a larger market for the company than students in the West. Here in the US, Pearson pursues its privatization agenda through charter schools that are run for profit but funded by taxpayers. It’s hard to imagine the company won’t apply what it learns from its global experiments as it continues to expand its offerings stateside.
If you have a child in public school already, you know Pearson’s work. They are responsible for many of the big standardized tests out there – from PARCC to the ACT, SAT, and GED – and they are the ones behind the Advanced Placement (AP) classes your high school children have the option to take. They are opposed by all the right people, too, it would seem.
The growth of privatized education is igniting a global debate. Last April, major teachers’ unions in the US, UK, and South Africa signed a letter to Pearson CEO John Fallon that read in part: “By supporting the expansion of low-fee private schooling and other competitive practices, Pearson is essentially ensuring that a large number of the world’s most vulnerable children have no hope of receiving free, quality education.” In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that called for monitoring all private education providers.
And, some of the people that many here call allies in the education fight.
Barber himself points out to me that his face appears as “the seventh-scariest person in education reform” on an anti-Common Core website.
But, the idea of privatized education on a grand scale is exactly what many conservatives looking to scale back the tyrannical hand of public education would love to see. Offering it so cheaply, partnering with government to provide vouchers to those who cannot afford even the cheapest schools, and using the data they’ve gotten from other schools to drive how they provide education are all excellent ideas in the grand scheme of education reform.
How will conservatives respond to Pearson’s play? Probably with skepticism. After all, they are a big name in standardized tests, particular PARCC, which is based entirely on the controversial Common Core State Standards. What’s more, in doing this, they become arguably the biggest provider in privatized education (globally). The pushback will be immense, with unions and government organizations fighting them every step of the way.
Still, Pearson is making a move in the right direction, and the data gathered from their schools around the globe can be used in a positive way to drive education reform, something that no one can deny we desperately need in our nation today.