Putting Education Reform To The Test

Inside the School Testing “Business-Education Complex”

The Texas Observer‘s Abby Rapoport takes a look at publishing giant Pearson and the school testing business.

Pearson designs and administers Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test as well as Texas’ standardized equivalent. Pearson drew criticism last year when the company missed its deadline for FCAT results despite a $254 million contract.

The Texas Observer story also notes that Pearson products have spread their way throughout the education ecosystem, from science course materials to remedial programs for students who fail to score well on Pearson’s standardized tests.

Pearson, according to the Observer story, is just one high-profile beneficiary of the privatization of public schooling. The story pins blame on the federal No Child Left Behind law, which mandated standardized testing to measure student performance.

The upside, supporters say, is that testing is still the best way for parents to gauge their child’s progress and the quality of their schools.

The Observer quotes David Anderson, a lobbyist whose clients include Pearson competitors such as HillCo Partners.

“You have companies that have grown up either by expanding business or adding new business to sort of fill that void,” Anderson says. “Well, once something is established, if a program has a set life, the company that is now doing that work wants to figure out a way to extend that beyond the life of that project. And as a result you get this burgeoning business-education complex that includes companies that once upon a time might have been textbook companies, or test companies, that now do so many more things.”

The article also quotes Sandy Kress, a Texas education expert who lobbies on behalf of Pearson. Kress believes the fear is overstated.

“School districts have for a long, long time relied in a good substantial part on the private sector,” he points out. “The private sector has always made things for the school and sold them to them, whether it’s school desks or built their schools.”

What do you think? Is the testing worth the money? Any concerns about the “business-education complex?” How has Pearson performed in Florida?


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