The Big Business of Education: Breaking Down the Dollars Behind Common Core and PARCC

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Cost Of EducationAs thousands of students across Ohio became the first in the nation to take the state-wide mandated PARCC tests last week—new standardized tests from the Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers—many parents are still concerned. From the more limited groups that have implemented testing in various states over the past couple of years, the tests have proven to be problematic—testing children over content that is not age appropriate, material that is two to five years above grade-level, basing teacher evaluations on the outcomes of these test results (the passing rate is only expected to be 20-40%), to name a few of the issues.

It is also notable that Pearson landed the major contract, as approved by the PARCC consortium, to administer these tests aligned to the common-core standards, a project described as being of “unprecedented scale.”  For a contract of such an “unprecedented scale,” one might assume that competition was fierce; however, after interest from several companies, Pearson ended up being the only bidder.

Aside from the concerns over the actual tests and their validity, there is the issue of the politics and business deals that take place behind the scenes. While so many parents and teachers nationwide are speaking out against Common Core and the newly implemented standardized tests, it only makes sense to look to the company producing the tests and their political and business ties to find answers.

According to Pearson’s 2013 Annual Report, North American Education is Pearson’s largest business, bringing in 2,779 million in British Pounds, or $4.3 billion; Adjusted Operating Profit was 406 million British Pounds, or $625 million. Needless to say, the United States’ increased attention to standardized testing over the past couple of decades has been a prime target on which Pearson has been able to focus.

Pearson software grades student essays, tracks student behavior, even diagnosing attention deficit disorder. The company also oversees teacher licensing exams, trains teachers once they’re in the classroom through continuing education; Pearson advises principals—even going as far as paying for trips for school administration officials from across the country to trips abroad, to conferences where the only education company represented was Pearson, until the New York attorney general cracked down on this practice in 2013. Pearson also operates a network of three dozen online public schools, as well as being a co-owner of the for-profit company that now administers the GED.

A top executive boasted in 2012 that Pearson is the largest custodian of student data anywhere—and that’s just its K-12 business.  Its marketing materials boast that its consultants can help them “stay one step ahead” of federal regulations. “But the POLITICO review found that public contracts and public subsidies — including at least $98.5 million in tax credits from six states — have flowed to Pearson even when the company can’t show its products and services are producing academic gains.”

Even with the less than sterling history that seems to be apparent with Pearson, my own home state of Ohio has not only signed on to Common Core, but also the PARCC consortium, implementing the new form of standardized tests.

Just a few days ago, on a trip to South Carolina to pitch a federal balanced-budget proposal, Kasich commented on Common Core, and his reaffirmation of it: “That is not something that Barack Obama is putting together. … It’s local school boards developing local curriculum to meet higher standards. I cannot figure out what’s wrong with that. …To a large degree, it’s a runaway Internet campaign, as far as I’m concerned in Ohio.” The comments reverberate ones the he made in January when he told Fox News the only people opposed to the educational standards are “running for something.”

While Kasich may be trying to downplay the backlash in his own state and across the country, it may be more of a concerted effort on his part to ignore the issue and detract from his own reluctance to address actual solutions because the outcry from parents and teachers reveal objections, which are based out of legitimate concern for education system—not because every parent or teacher is “running for something.” This isn’t political for parents and teachers.

Next year, if the PARCC tests are fully implemented, many students will be tested up to 12 times in one year; that is anywhere from 18-24 hours dedicated to testing, not including the time that it takes to prep students for these tests— which is valuable classroom time being taken away from what should be going on in classrooms—actually allowing teachers to teach students for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, not preparing them to pass an arbitrary test.

So why is Governor Kasich so reluctant to address the concerns of his constituents? The answer may very well be found in the fact that a large division of Pearson resides in Columbus, Ohio. It may also be in the money (from the Race to the Top Grant) and the new jobs that it brought to Ohio:

$400 million in Race to the Top Grant money:

$206 million split between 437 districts and charter schools. The divvying up of Ohio’s Race winnings begins with $206 million going to participating districts and charter schools. The remaining $194 million will be spent by the Ohio Department of Education for statewide impact.

Most of the 33 Education Department positions have been filled, at base salaries budgeted from $63,000 to $135,000.

For each staffer, the budget also allows for:

  • A 1.5 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment.
  • Fringe benefits at 28 percent of the base.
  • Travel reimbursements of $2,500 a year.
  • A $1,200 computer plus annual maintenance costs.
  • $10,000 a year for supplies.

The 16 regional specialists will work with local districts. The budget puts their salaries and benefits at $115,000 a year, plus $25,000 a year for travel costs.

Each job description for a state-funded position warns that it will disappear when the Race money runs out in 2014.

So where will the money come from now? To continue to implement these standards, will states not have to come up with the funding?

Or perhaps, the governor is remaining steadfast to Common Core because of the heavy-handed ramifications from the federal government for repealing Common Core. It is important to note that states that adopted the federal government’s Common Core standards, received a waiver from implementing No Child Left Behind, which left control and implementation of the law up to the states.

Recently, Oklahoma repealed Common Core, without providing an acceptable alternative to Common Core, and reverting to the state’s former academic standards, the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills standards. Without providing an acceptable alternative, as determined by the federal government, Oklahoma is now subject to the consequences of No Child Left Behind of: providing tutoring services and public school choice options no later than the 2015-16 school year, however schools that will need a total overhaul must begin that process this school year.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement: “It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.”

“This marks the first time the Education Department has stripped a state of its waiver on the grounds of academic standards. This is obviously dicey water for the Secretary [Arne] Duncan, given growing opposition to Common Core.” said Anne Hyslop, a senior policy analyst for Bellwether Education Partners.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you from one of the hysterical, rampant Internet users who recognizes that the greedy, unethical goings-on in Ohio public education must stop immediately. I think you should follow this story with one about BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools. I think you might find some of the “temporary” RttT employees enrolled in this free MBA program.

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