Sunday, October 16, 2011

Show me the money...

This week the New York Times published a story that Pearson's Non-Profit organization is running afoul of the Internal Revenue Service by providing junkets to top state education officials who Pearson also--coincidentally--works closely with in business relationships.

Though the state officials emphasize that the trips are educational--talking to other educators in countries such as Rio de Janerio, London, Singapore, Helsinki--they also spend time conversing with Pearson executives in the profit-making arm of the business.

Tax officials indicate that this is the same relationship that sunk convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Regardless of the implications, we have a bit of a peek into the industry.  The NYT reports:
Illinois is paying Pearson $138 million to administer the state’s standardized testing program; Virginia is paying $110 million and Kentucky $57 million. All three of their commissioners have attended the conferences.
Wow.  That's a lot of samolies.  I always said that education pays big.  Just not for teachers.

Here is another snippet from the article:

Pearson is eager to sell practically any product a state or local school district would want to buy, including prepackaged curriculums, textbooks and programs to turn around low-performing schools.

What a gig.

First you write the test, then you provide the textbook that is aligned with the test.  Then you train the teachers to teach the textbook that aligns with the tests, then you sell the software that tracks the test scores and 'grades' the teachers, then you.....

I've taught in public schools for 23 years.  I make, after all that time and experience, (masters degree, national board certification) $55,000.

Guess what I'm trained to do:  Create assessments, create learning experiences aligned with my assessments (and these are often teachable moments pulled right from current events or other timely events that resonate with the adolescents sitting right in front of me.  Much more timely and engaging, often, than what is provided in a textbook) score the assessments, evaluate the students, and report learning to parents.

But why trust me when you can get a trip to Helsinki and some glitzy software?

I find it endlessly ironic that a testing company would send educators to Helsinki (Finland, don't you know) where the education system tests their students infrequently and has spent their resources training, and then trusting, their teachers.

The last textbook review I was part of was a circus of bells and whistles.  The textbook companies came to our meetings and practically fell over each other trying to up the ante on what they would 'give' us if we chose their textbooks.  Remember now, that I teach English and most of what we need is reading material.  And much of that reading material has been in the public domain for quite some time.

For teachers, the big prize--offered finally after weeks of a hard sell-- was a free flash drive thrown on the pile of online and blackline ancillary materials (most of which sit on a shelf and which, I was told when I worked in advertising, is just smoke to get the buyer to think they are getting something extra).

Jokingly, I told the department chair that we should hold out for a free cruise for the whole department.

I don't think I was that far off.

Can we agree, yet, that money is a big problem here?