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8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests

Bush's No Child Left Behind Act and Obama's Race to the Top grant program means testing giants are raking in the dough.

Photo Credit: Von Seggern


A few months ago, fourth-grader Joey Furlong was lying in a hospital bed, undergoing a pre-brain surgery screening, when a teacher  walked in the room with a standardized test. Shocked, Joey’s father, who was in the room, told the teacher to leave.

Joey’s mother, Tami Furlong, later said, “I would like to hope she would not have taken his arm that has an IV and oximeter on it and put a No. 2 pencil in it.”

Joey’s story serves as one example of just how absurdly enforced standardized testing has become. Since George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2002, testing in the United States has skyrocketed. Before NCLB, under Bill Clinton’s Improving America’s Schools Act, the federal government required students to take six tests total — a reading and math test in elementary, middle and high school. Under NCLB, in order to receive federal funding, schools are required to make students take 14 tests total — a reading and math test from grades 3-8 and once in high school, plus a science test in elementary, middle and high school. But some districts require even more tests.

Barack Obama’s $500 million competitive grant program Race to the Top, enacted in 2009, chiefly inspired school districts to give more tests. Amidst the recession, state budgets were hit hard, and government officials were willing to do whatever they could to receive money. Now, at least 25 states mandate one formal assessment test in kindergarten. Race to the Top’s 2011 Early Learning Challenge awarded schools that could prove their students' “readiness” to begin school — meaning how well four-year-olds did on “entry assessments.”

In order to execute these policies that significantly expanded testing, school districts needed test providers. This, in turn, made some educational corporations very rich. Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to prevent the misuse of standardized testing, said he is inclined to blame politicians, rather than corporations, for the testing boom.

He said, “In a capitalist society, if there’s a market, somebody will figure out how to serve it. But the corporations reinforce the stupidity of the bad policies of politicians.”

Pearson is the largest corporation serving this testing market. Pearson is the world’s largest education company and book publisher, bringing in more than $9 billion annually.

But Pearson wasn’t always so big. In fact, Pearson, a British multinational corporation, was just starting out in the early 2000s. But “Pearson looked at NCLB as its business plan,” Schaeffer said. Pearson began rapidly buying up U.S. companies.

Currently, Pearson has partnered with 18 states in the U.S., as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, to produce pricey testing materials. For a five-year contract, Pearson was paid $32 million to produce standardized tests for New York. Its contract in Texas was worth $500 million. Pearson also owns Connections Academy, a company that runs for-profit, virtual charter schools. It also owns the GED program, although competitors have been  creating alternatives in order to combat Pearson’s expensive tests. By and large, the massive corporation has far-reaching control over the education industry.

Noted educator Diane Ravitch  wrote, “Truly, the reach of Pearson across all of American education is astonishing.”

While Pearson is the major player in the rise of standardized testing, other corporations have a stake in testing as well. CTB/McGraw-Hill is probably Pearson’s main competitor, with several states across the country using its standardized tests. CTB/McGraw, with revenues of more than $2 billion, is best know for its TerraNova and California Achievement Tests. Other players include Education Testing Services, as well as Riverside Publishing and its parent company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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