In 2002, President George W. Bush ushered in the No Child Left Behind Act that introduced standardized testing throughout elementary schools in the U.S. These teach-to-the-test policies failed miserably, forcing teachers to waste valuable classroom time preparing students for tests, leaving little time to develop students’ basic reading, math and analytical skills. NCLB also resulted in funding cuts for schools where students did not meet arbitrary standards set under the act.
Most people have probably not heard of the Common Core State Standard testing mandated to be introduced in school districts in 45 states and the District of Columbia in 2014. The CCSS is NCLB on steroids.
Teachers will have to retrain to use new untested math and English-language software and CCSS-tailored textbooks. School districts already strapped for cash will be forced to spend limited resources on the new technology.
Only the corporations that financed the development of this new technology and lobbied for its implementation stand to gain. These corporations are also counting on students’ widespread failing of the Common Core tests as an excuse to push districts to purchase even more training technology, fire teachers in low-ranked schools and turn schools over to private management. The CCSS is the latest in the grand corporate scheme to profit from privatized public education.
Microsoft and Pearson get big CCSS profits
Foremost among corporations already profiting from the CCSS are Bill Gates’ Microsoft and British-based Pearson Inc. Both spent years channeling corporate funds through not-for-profit “charities” — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Pearson Foundation, respectively — to champion the development and promotion of Common Core and to create a marketplace for their education technology.
Gates Foundation spokespeople tout the CCSS as a “step to greater excellence in education,” but this latest round of federally imposed educational testing is really designed to secure new markets for technical and computerized educational materials. The Gates Foundation spent over $170 million to manipulate the U.S. Department of Education to impose the CCSS, knowing it would realize a return on this investment as school districts and parents rush to buy the technology products they’ve been convinced are vital to improving education.
In 2011 the Gates Foundation joined forces with the Pearson Foundation to create new online reading and math courses for the CCSS. Pearson executives saw the potential to secure lucrative contracts in testing, textbooks and software worth tens of millions of dollars. From 2009 to 2011 the Pearson Foundation contributed more than $540,000 to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to promote test development. Pearson already had contracts with many states testing students under No Child Left Behind. (HuffingtonPost.com, Dec. 19, 2013)
According to an article by Valerie Strauss in the Nov. 27, 2013, Washington Post, the Gates Foundation gave $20 million more in grants to institutions and organizations in 2013 to further implementation of the CCSS. These included $3.2 million to the New Venture Fund to build public awareness of the CCSS, $4 million to the CCSSO to develop assessments to measure the standards, and nearly $4.4 million to the NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education to develop Common Core-aligned lesson plans. Grants were also given to the National Conference of State Legislators to promote government support for implementation of the standards.
The Pearson and Gates foundations also fund the Education Development Center in Massachusetts that designs teacher evaluation policy, and they stand to benefit from the EDC recommendations. In May, Pearson Education became the sole administer of teacher certification in New York under the evaluation system Teacher Performance Assessment. Four of the five states included in the EDC study are anti-union states where teachers have no job security.
Publishing giant Pearson dominates the education testing industry, raking in profits as school districts are pushed to replace paper textbooks with digital technology. The 651,000-student Los Angeles school system spent over $1 billion in 2013 to purchase iPads for every student from Pearson. Pearson’s Common Core Systems of Courses were purchased by the district to provide all the primary instructional materials for math and English/language arts for K-12, even though the materials were incomplete. (dianeravitch.net)
Common Core uses student ‘failure’ to push for more ‘reforms’
Pearson has billions of dollars in long-term contracts with education departments in a number of states and municipalities to introduce both testing software and the teacher training software and textbooks it claims are necessary to prepare for the tests. New York had paid Pearson $32 million for a five-year contract. Illinois paid $138 million, Kentucky $57 million, Utah close to $200 million and Texas a whopping $462.
However, having secured these profitable contracts prior to the roll out of Common Core, Pearson is running into problems in states that started testing students using the standards. Oklahoma, Indiana and South Carolina, which tried out the testing, dropped the program entirely. Lawmakers in Florida, Illinois and South Dakota have introduced legislation to reassess the use of the CCSS and related tests. There is a bill in the Tennessee legislature to freeze Common Core implementation.
When Common Core tests were administered in New York in the spring of 2013, 70 percent of students across the state “failed.” State education administrators said the test results showed the need for more education “reforms” — code for attacking teachers’ unions and privatizing schools — while claiming that more testing was the solution. Parents and teachers, on the other hand, see the results as a reason to throw out the tests.
In December New York state fined Pearson Foundation $7.7 million for using its charitable work to promote and develop course materials and software to benefit its corporate profit making. New York law prohibits nonprofit corporations from using charitable funds to develop for-profit products. After the investigation began, Pearson Foundation sold the courses to Pearson for $15.1 million. In 2010, Pearson paid Florida $15 million for late delivery of test scores and $5 million to Wyoming for system malfunctions.
The New York investigation also opened up questions about Pearson’s nonprofit foundation paying for Pearson’s potential business clients to attend education conferences. After one Virginia education commissioner attended the company’s conference in Finland, the state hired Pearson for a $110 million contract, bypassing another bid that was $2 million lower.
Call for investigation prompts Gates’ moratorium
On June 9, Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University and author of “Reign of Error,” sounded the alarm over the implementation of Common Core and called for a congressional investigation, noting, “The idea that the richest man in [the U.S.] can purchase and — working closely with the U.S. Department of Education — impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal.” (Huffington Post, June 9)
One day later the Gates Foundation urged a two-year moratorium on the full implementation of the Common Core program.
Bill Gates may have been forced to suggest this temporary tactical retreat, but don’t expect the push for the Common Core or the introduction of other education technology to go away. The U.S. spends over $500 billion annually on K-12 education. Valued at $1.3 trillion, for-profit education is one of the largest U.S. investment markets. (Washington Post, Jan. 9, 2013) When colleges and career-training programs are included, the education sector represents almost 9 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.
Corporate investments in K-12 education technology reached $389 million in 2011, up from $13 million in 2005. Technology developers see a virtual “education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating students [with disabilities], even writing report cards, said Michael Moe,” the founder of GSV Capital. (Reuters, Aug. 2, 2012)
Companies like Pearson, Microsoft and others stand to gain, but not just in developing and administering the tests and selling the teacher-training materials. Their tests are designed to make most public schools look really bad. They are counting on widespread student “failure” of the CCSS to push districts and parents to purchase even more training technology.
The introduction of technology in education may sound good on the surface, but what is the end result? More testing equals less teaching. The value of qualified teachers is undercut to promote more standardized testing — technology — into the classroom.
This is the general trend of capitalism in the epoch of capitalism at a dead end. Dumb down labor. Replace teachers with tablets. Classroom time devoted to the joy of learning is pushed aside to make time for the standardized test — the tool corporations use to push out unionized teachers and replace them with lower-wage, part-time, inexperienced staff.
There is little doubt that those who benefit most are neither teachers nor students, but the for-profit testing industry.