Our Kids Are Not For Sale: The Danger in Challenging Pearson

This is the first of many in our new Our Kids Are Not For Sale series. It is a sad day, indeed, when we need to come together to figure out a way to let our administrators, state and federal leaders, ed reformers, and big business CEOs know that we are not going to sell our kids to the highest bidder, in the name of education.

The Backstory

Dr. Walter Stroup is more than likely a name you’ve never heard, but it should be. In a September 3 Observer article, Jason Stanford brought Stroup’s story to light. A tenured associate professor in the University of Texas College of Education, who earned his doctorate in education from Harvard University, Stroup was celebrated by Texas lawmakers and earned a National Science Foundation grant for his work with a cloud-computing simulation designed to teach kids math. His work with the program, called the Algebra Project, was the reason UT recruited him initially. And, Texas Instruments asked him to use its TI Navigator calculator to work with the younger students who had failed the state math tests.

By 2006, he had implemented the math curriculum at a Dallas-area middle school with “impressive results.” The lawmakers and teachers were happy. But, Stroup knew that he needed to measure the improvements to show just how successful his methods had been. He used the tests available to him, the state’s math tests, but when the scores came back, the kids’ scores Math Fact Test by Judy Baxterhad risen a mere 10%. The test results certainly didn’t match what he had observed in the classrooms, or what the teachers’ expectations were.

Stroup decided to put the tests to the test. He determined, after entering every Texas student’s math score, that 72% of the test scores remained the same, regardless of the student’s grade or the subject being tested. In fact, if a math question were replaced with a science question, a student’s score wouldn’t be affected. Stroup concluded that the tests do not actually measure what the kids learn in the classroom; rather, they test how well kids can take the tests. Stroup went to the hearings before the Texas legislature in June of 2012 prepared to share his results and to testify that the state had signed a $468 million contract with Pearson to deliver the tests when all they were getting was the wrong testing tool.

As Diane Ravitch points out in her blog post, Stroup did the unimaginable. He challenged Pearson publicly, before its financial supporters and the world. Even though, two months earlier, in April, the American Statistical Association had condemned the use of student test scores to rate teacher performance because teachers account for only 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, Pearson worked behind the scenes and out of the public’s eye to discredit Stroup. According to Pearson, Stroup mislabeled a column on his spreadsheet. Stanford’s article points to a public statement by Dr. Walter “Denny” Way, senior vice president for measurement services at Pearson, that states the tests are only 50% “insensitive” to instruction. This was a glaring confession by Pearson; essentially, Dr. Way admitted that Pearson sells products knowing they don’t measure half of what goes on in a classroom.

The Aftermath

Stanford reports that Dr. Stroup’s tenure now is in jeopardy. During his Post-Tenure Review Report, Stroup was given an unsatisfactory rating. He was accused of publishing too little and presenting too seldom, but he had conducted four conference presentations, and he had done the cloud-computing work. Eventually, UT changed his rating to “does not meet expectations,” put him on an aggressive publishing schedule, and forced him to move his office three times. This all should be alarming, because the University of Texas recruited him for the very work he presented before the legislature.

The problem is, Pearson is a benefactor of UT College of Education. The Pearson Foundation created a $1 million endowment at the College of Education, which resulted in the Pearson Center for Applied Psychometric Research. Their endowment funded an endowed professorship and an endowed faculty fellowship, and Pearson seems to be funding itsMoney by 401kcalculator nonprofit through its parent company at the University of Texas, as it did in New York (and for which it was fined $7.7 million, according to Ravitch).

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharon Vaughn, the H. E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas College of Education simultaneously is consulting for Pearson Learning. Pearson also published an e-textbook written by Vaughn. Now, she’s presenting Pearson’s iLit. A webinar featuring Vaughn was moderated by John Guild, senior product and marketing manager for Pearson Lit. It appears as though UT’s Pearson Center is doing quite a bit of promotional work for Pearson, while Dr. Stroup is being pushed out of the University.

The Takeaways

I am appalled by this news both as a parent and as a teacher. At TRUTH In Teaching, we keep reading and sharing articles about how much money Pearson is making, about how politicians are getting involved in the “business of school,” about how ed reformers want to privatize public education in this country to make even more money, and the news just keeps getting worse and worse for our kids. I don’t even know where to begin with my outrage. There are so many things these articles tell me…

  • Pearson may stop at nothing to grow its profits
  • When colleges of education are in bed with Pearson, future generations of teachers already are buying into the testing culture and data reporting on which Pearson relies
  • Higher-ed institutions are under the control of big business
  • Pearson’s nonprofits and for-profits are one in the same entity
  • Pearson will admit that its tests do not test children’s knowledge, yet they continue to peddle to states and schools – worse yet, the states and schools continue to buy into the Pearson machine
  • Because Pearson knows that it is testing how well kids take a test, they sell more materials to states and schools to prepare kids to take their tests – can you say, “Monopoly”?
  • Teachers, under fire for their kids’ test scores, cancel field trips and engaging learning activities and replace them with Pearson-produced worksheets and test prep books to get them ready to take the tests
  • Teachers have to teach a whole new set of vocabulary to get kids ready for the test (conclude, passage, analyze, argument paper, etc.)

This era of business-dominated politics and education must come to an end. The days of subjecting students to testing that does not measure anything of value must stop. Pearson is attempting to buy education, and state legislatures are allowing it to happen.

Go to school board meetings. Talk to other teachers. Learn about opting out. No matter how we do it, we need to let all of the decision makers know Our Kids Are Not For Sale!

Test Image via Flickr by Judy Baxter
Money Image via Flickr by 401kcalculator

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