Addenda to Aaron Barlow’s Review of More than a Score

—or, If Moses Was a Founding Father, Then Was Charlton Heston’s Leadership of the NRA Divinely Preordained?

Aaron’s post references the addition of new standardized tests in Texas.

In an October 11 article for the British newspaper The Telegraph, Katherine Rushton opens a discussion of the UK-based conglomerate’s “challenges” with pointed references to the business that they do in Texas:

“Most people have, at some point in their lives, felt a bout of nerves as they awaited a crucial set of exam results. Pearson’s chief executive, John Fallon, could be forgiven for having the same feeling.

“Next month, the London-listed education giant will face its own version of this peculiar kind of torture, as it learns whether Texas plans to renew its contract for Pearson to provide testing in schools. The deal is a valuable one, worth around $500m (£310m) over five years. It is also a matter of particular strategic importance.

“Texas is among America’s biggest and most influential states when it comes to education spending–-the linchpin in the North American market, which accounts for 59 percent of Pearson’s revenues and 66 percent of its profits. And it has a long history of doing business with the British company, whose chief executive cut his teeth in the US textbook market, and whose former boss, Dame Marjorie Scardino, is herself American.

“If the educational testing business were an election, this would count as Pearson’s safe seat. Yet there are signs Pearson may be about to lose its grip on its traditional stronghold. An audit of the Texas Education Agency recently found problems with the way the Pearson contract was tendered and managed.

“Questions have been raised in a number of different states over the quality of Pearson’s digital courses. An influential religious lobby group, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, has meanwhile lambasted the publisher over one of its textbooks, for allegedly drawing exaggeratedly close links between Moses’s Ten Commandments and the US constitution.”

I am not sure about the fate of Pearson’s very profitable contract to provide standardized testing in Texas, but Moses seems to have survived challenges to many ideological content decisions recommended by the state’s textbook board. What follows is from a November 24 article contributed to AlterNet’s Right Wing Watch by Miranda Blue:

“The Texas Freedom Network, which live-blogged today’s vote, said that some problematic material had been removed from the proposed textbooks, including climate denial and ‘offensive cartoons comparing beneficiaries of affirmative action to space aliens,’ but that references to Moses as an influence on the Constitution and the Old Testament as the root of democracy remained. But TFN notes that publishers posted a number of last-minute changes to the textbooks yesterday, leaving board members and observers without time to figure out exactly what was in the approved texts:

“‘The Texas Education Agency posted scores of pages of publisher comments and textbook revisions after the last public hearing on Tuesday. Miller said scholars did not have an opportunity to review and comment on the numerous changes publishers have submitted since the last public hearing on Tuesday. Some of those changes appeared to have been negotiated with state board members behind closed doors.

“’During a months-long process, publishers made a number of improvements to their textbooks. Those improvements included removing inaccurate information promoting climate change denialism; deleting offensive cartoons comparing beneficiaries of affirmative action to space aliens; making clearer that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War; and revising passages that had promoted unfair negative stereotypes of Muslims. Scholars and the general public had ample opportunity to review and comment on those revisions.

“’However, the new textbooks also include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. Scholars from across the country have said such claims are inaccurate and mislead students about the historical record.’

“The textbooks were approved despite a last-minute attempt by Truth in Texas Textbooks, a group with ties to the anti-Muslim organization ACT! for America, to remove accurate information about Islam, reduce coverage of civil rights (which it found to promote unsavory “racial politics”), and insert information about Young Earth Creationism sourced to the conservative website Conservapedia.”

An article in the Texas Tribune provides the following additional details:

“The Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition, all but unheard from for months while new social studies textbooks and instructional materials were being vetted, submitted a 469-page report in late October identifying more than 1,500 ‘factual errors, omission of facts, half-truths and agenda biases’ in proposed materials.

“Among its objections: a passage on coal mining should say it has ‘minimal effect on the environment’; a chapter on Spanish colonization of Latin America should point out the ‘continuous discrimination and oppression practiced by the native American peoples on each other’; and a statement that Shariah law requires religious tolerance of non-Muslims should be removed. . . .

“The group was formed by retired Lt. Col. Roy White, a Tea Party activist who also leads the Bexar County Chapter of ACT! for America, an organization dedicated to fighting extremist Islam. Its founder, Brigitte Gabriel, is known for her views that Muslims in the United States pose a danger to national security.”

This sort of ideological pandering is what occurs when a multinational conglomerate pursues very profitable contracts at the expense of credible educational standards. What makes it all much worse, of course, is that the same company that is publishing these textbooks is also providing the standardized tests that have become the primary measure by which students’ progress and the overall quality of the education that is being provided are being assessed.

After a very detailed discussion of whether former CEO Marjorie Scardino or current CEO John Fallon is more responsible for the “challenges” that Pearson is currently confronting, Katherine Rushton provides this succinct overview of the “educational provider” industry:

“Whichever interpretation one adopts it is clear that Pearson’s troubles are not all of its own making. Its current turbulence started at a time when the tectonic plates of the education industry were already shifting rapidly. Part of this is down to a redrawing of the battle lines between established rivals. In America, McGraw-Hill Education has lately sharpened its focus on digital products under new chief executive David Levin, the former boss of UBM.

“News Corp’s education division has also upped its game, under the guidance of Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor.

“But there are also a number of new rivals bearing down on the sector: Some of these are start-ups. We are in the midst of an unparalleled splurge in investment in new digital education businesses. In 2008, venture capital firms ploughed just $200 million into the sector. This year, that sum is on course for $1 billion.

“Meanwhile, established technology giants like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are all making inroads into the industry, in the hope that they will build loyal audiences to sell other products to down the line. ‘We’ve handed education to the big software and hardware providers,’ says a senior industry figure. ‘Google is slated to have 20 million teachers working on Google apps, and it’s all free. The margins are different because the motivations are different. Google can give away education because it is securing customers for the future.’

“At the moment, the big technology companies tend to partner with the traditional players–-Apple was supposed to provide the iPads for LA’s $1bn digital project, for example, but Pearson was responsible for the content. However, we have already seen this story play out in other industries. It is only a matter of time before these technology giants start producing their own content, and try to disintermediate the traditional publishers altogether. . . .

“He identifies Amazon as the biggest single threat. Its motivation is clear. The more educational content it provides, the more likely it is users will become dependent on its ecosystem and use it for future purchases.”

Rushton quotes an “senior industry insider” as saying: “’Partnering with one of these guys is like going to bed with a serial rapist. It is only a matter of time.’”

What an appropriately disturbing metaphor for what for-profit “educational reform” has been doing to American public education.

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The full text of Katherine Rushton’s article is available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/media/11155993/Pearsons-dominance-of-textbook-market-is-under-examination.html

The full text of Miranda Blue’s article is available at: http://www.alternet.org/education/texas-approves-textbooks-moses-honorary-founding-father?akid=12502.30928.6sj4R-&rd=1&src=newsletter1027632&t=8

 

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