Is ‘Public Education’ Really All That Public?

Jules W. Rabin


“Public” education used to be about kids, parents and teachers. Today there is a fourth equation in the formula: private corporations who thrive and pretty much have their finger in virtually all of “public” education.

Ever hear of the Pearson firm? It is the world’s largest, for-profit education business. Among other bits and pieces, Pearson holds a five-year, $32 million contract to produce New York State standardized tests. That, however, is the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket.

Pearson has a five-year testing contract with the State of Texas, which costs its taxpayers almost a half-billion dollars. It sure looks like everything is bigger in Texas.

How powerful is Pearson? Its lobbyists happen to include the gentleman who acted as White House liaison with Congress in putting together the No Child Left Behind law.

Its nonprofit foundation is famous for shipping state education commissioners on free trips overseas to think about school reform. As a recent New York Times column pointed out, a U.S. kid could attend a school run by Pearson while progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests.

Or the youngster could drop out and obtain a GED. It used to be exclusively operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education. Last year, guess what: Pearson announced it was joining a partnership to “redevelop” the GED.

The current administration is trying to coax states to amalgamate their individual (50) versions of standardized tests and share as many as possible to dramatically cut costs. Some people call this a federal takeover of public schools.

I wonder what point of view Pearson has about states sharing tests. Let’s think about that one.