For all the research to the contrary, US public education continues to bow down at the feet of the mighty monopoly that is Pearson publishing. Although study after study demonstrates the need for education to be interested driven and project based in order to develop critical thinking skills, states, districts, and administrators turn to the easy solution, a one-size-fits-none approach provided by a single company.
Pearson has aggressive lobbyists, top-notch marketing and a highly skilled sales team. Until the New York attorney general cracked down in late 2013, Pearson’s charitable foundation made a practice of treating school officials from across the nation to trips abroad, to conferences where the only education company represented was Pearson….
The story of Pearson’s rise is very much a story about America’s obsession with education reform over the past few decades.
Ever since a federal commission published “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 — warning that public education was being eroded by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people” — American schools have been enveloped in a sense of crisis. Politicians have raced to tout one fix after the next: new tests, new standards, new classroom technology, new partnerships with the private sector.
K-12 superintendents and college administrators alike struggle to boost enrollment, raise graduation rates, improve academic outcomes — and to do it all while cutting costs.
In this atmosphere of crisis, Pearson promises solutions. It sells the latest and greatest, and it’s no fly-by-night startup; it calls itself the world’s leading learning company. Public officials have seized it as a lifeline.
How can a company meet the individual needs of students in a diverse nation such as the US? The short answer: it can’t. Yet every year, more schools turn to Pearson for a quick solution to a political problem. Teachers in the classroom are painfully aware that with every additional test from Pearson students fall further behind. They lose interest in the learning process as creativity is discouraged and interest-driven study is relegated to after school activities. Is it any wonder the home school movement is gaining steam? Critical thinking is developed by problem solving, collaboration, and desire to progress. Pearson’s single strategy does nothing but develop excellent test-takers who do not retain information because there is no context or relevance for any of it once the test is over.
Parents and teachers and voters need to insist that education is customized for the students in their districts. Student needs change from urban areas to rural, and geographical variances. There are some common elements required, but once the basics of reading and mathematics is established, education must offer flexibility if US students are to be competitive on a world market. Until the system values innovation, creativity, and self-driven learning, US students will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.