Tag Archives: Pearson Corporation

i-Ready Sells 50-Years-Old Education Failure

23 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/23/2019

i-Ready sells digital math and English lessons to school districts. It provides diagnostic testing which recommends interventions for struggling students that it then provides. i-Ready’s pedagogy embraces competency based education (CBE) a theory promoted by the US Department of Education and blended learning theory also financially supported by the federal government. CBE is the latest name for an education theory that failed in both the 1970’s and 1990’s. Blended learning theory is an experiment with almost no research supporting it but lots of research pointing to its health risks. Students dislike i-Ready.

June 2018, I wrote “i-Ready Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching.” It received decent traffic for the first four days, but strangely the traffic never slowed. This year, it is my most accessed article averaging over 700 hits per month.

Curriculum Associates and Bad Education Philosophy

The Massachusetts based company Curriculum Associates (CA) distributes i-Ready and its related testing services. When founded in 1969, it was providing worksheets in support of Mastery Learning curriculum which is similar to today’s CBE. They are the same failed theories delivered by different mediums. CBE and Mastery Learning theory also go by many other names including outcome based education; performance based education; standards based education; high performance learning; transformational education and break-the-mold schools, among others.

Benjamin Bloom and his collaborators developed what almost all teachers in America know as “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” The taxonomy was originally conceived as a method for identifying the learning objectives that test questions addressed. At the time, Bloom was the Director of the Board of Examinations of the University of Chicago and he enlisted measurement experts from across the country to aid in his question classification project. Their final product was published in 1956 under the title, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl).

David R. Krathwohl, Professor of Education Emeritus at Syracuse University, explained that Bloom saw the Taxonomy as more than a measurement tool. He says Bloom believed it could serve as a:

  • “common language about learning goals to facilitate communication across persons, subject matter, and grade levels;
  • “basis for determining for a particular course or curriculum the specific meaning of broad educational goals, such as those found in the currently prevalent national, state, and local standards;
  • “means for determining the congruence of educational objectives, activities, and assessments in unit, course, or curriculum;” (Emphasis added.)

In the late 1960’s Bloom outlined “Learning for Mastery” which was based on both the Taxonomy and the theoretical work of John B. Carroll. Carroll had proposed that if each student was allowed the time needed to learn a subject to some criterion level, then she could attain that level. In other words, almost all students could master academic subjects.

In the 1970’s “Learning for Mastery” became “Mastery Learning” and was evolving. However, critics were questioning its methods and outcomes. Many teachers started referring to it as “seats and sheets.

In 1976, James H. Block and Robert B. Burns, two education professors from the University of California Santa Barbra, published a lengthy defense of Mastery Learning. In their defense, they described the related Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) as an individually based, student-paced approach to mastery instruction wherein students typically learn independently of their classmates. They state:

“The theoretical basis for this strategy lay in B. F. Skinner’s pioneering work in operant conditioning and the application of that work in the programmed instruction movement of the 1960s. Some of the basic features of this movement have been summarized by Hartley (1974, p. 279).

  1. “The learner should be given some clear idea of where he is going, i.e., the terminal behavior.
  2. “The instruction leading to this behavior must be sequenced into small steps.
  3. “The learner should work on each step alone and at his own pace.
  4. “At each step, the learner should be encouraged to actively respond.
  5. “The learner should receive immediate knowledge of results concerning the correctness or appropriateness of these responses.” (Emphasis added.)

Mastery Learning outcomes were not encouraging. A 1982 paper in Learning by George N. Schmidt said, A city-wide elementary school reading program that emphasizes mastery learning … is blamed for the declining reading test scores of high school students there.”

When Chicago finally abandoned Mastery Learning, teacher Kenneth S. Goodman wrote in an Education Week article, “Perhaps what, more than any other factor, brought down the program was that it was imposed on teachers: …” (Emphasis added.)

As Mastery Learning was careening toward the dustbin of failed education ideas, Bill Spady, self-proclaimed father of Outcome-Based Education (OBE), was organizing a group of Mastery Learning advocates to join him in promoting OBE. Spady explained,

In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there—Jim Block, John Champlin—had a strong background in mastery learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name “mastery learning” in the network’s new name because the word “mastery” had already been destroyed through poor implementation.

Peter Greene the author of the blog “Curmudgucation” and Senior Contributor for education at Forbes discussed the demise of OBE in a 2015 Post. He noted, “This was the dawn of TSWBAT (the student will be able to…) which meant that every single objective had to be paired with some observable student behavior.” It is likely that almost all teachers in America have been plagued at one time or another by administrators insisting that a TSWBAT statement be posted for each day’s lesson.

The Clinton administration embraced OBE and its development of education curricular standards. However, the standards associated with OBE were peppered with politically charged non-cognitive objectives like:

“All students understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals, and exhibit self-esteem.

“All students apply the fundamentals of consumer behavior to managing available resources to provide for personal and family needs.

“All students make environmentally sound decisions in their personal and civic lives.”

OBE was extremely unpopular with practicing educators. However, what really killed it was the reaction from the political right. As Greene noted, “Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, Pat Robertson and most especially Phyllis Schafly were sure that OBE was here to socially engineer your child into some bleeding heart gay-loving liberal twinkie.” Another OBE vulnerability was absolutely no evidence or research indicated it actually worked.

Competency Based Education (CBE) and i-Ready

CBE is OBE on a screen. The objectives have been simplified into discrete sets of small competencies that can be assessed by digital algorithm. These objectives which align with common core state standards are derived from the ideas developed through Mastery Learning and OBE.

In 2008, i-Ready’s CEO, Rob Waldron, took the reins at Curriculum Associates (CA) and steered it into the digital education business. CA became an education technology company.

The timing was good. Jeb Bush soon established a well funded campaign to promoted digital learning (students at screens). Donald Cohen, chairperson of the nonprofit, In the Public Interest release a trove of emails that brought to light the forces financing Bush’s education technology initiative. Cohen said the emails “conclusively reveal that FEE [Foundation for Excellence in Education] staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy.

Lee Fan reporting for the Nation magazine said these funders included the American Legislative Exchange Council (Koch Industries), K12 Inc., Pearson, Apex Learning (launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft, McGraw-Hill Education, Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael and Susan Dell among others. With this kind of financial and political support, the fact that educating students by putting them at screens was an untested theory was not a hindrance.

Competency Based Education has not performed as theorized. This month, an article in Ed Week shared,

“The evidence base is very weak at this point,” said Pane, who led a Gates-funded study of about 40 personalized-learning schools, finding modest gains and big implementation challenges.”

“Critics such as independent researcher Audrey Watters warn that personalized learning is a pretext for ‘massive data collection’ and surveillance of students.”

Ed Week CBE Graphic

Results of Education Weeks School Principals Technology Survey

Parents, Teachers and Students Dislike i-Ready

This Urban dictionary says, “Iready is commonly used as a form of child torture in the US education system.

This definition aptly expresses the sentiments of many respondents to i-Ready blogs:

  1. Teacher: “I got no information on iReady about my students that I didn’t already know.”
  2. Parent: “I’ve only heard teachers say that iready gave them the same information they already have about students. IOW, it has no value.”
  3. Student: “I hate I-ready, when I do it I get the same lessons every time.”
  4. Student: “i hate doing iready”
  5. Teacher: “Most kids view computer programs as games. So it changes the mind set of many students from what am I learning to how can I beat this game.”
  6. Parent: “It is abusive to a student’s rights!”
  7. Teacher: “My eighth graders deliberately answer the diagnostic test questions incorrectly because they’ve discovered this results in easier (faster) lessons.”
  8. Parent: “My son hates it.”
  9. Student: “i am a kid in 4th grade who is supposed to be doing iready not writing this but i cant and wont because it is too stupid boring and downright horrible!”
  10. Student: “yeah I am not supposed to save this but what are we kids getting out of I ready I know nothing but a f’d up way to learn nothing but sh!t”
  11. Student: “i agree it sucks”
  12. Parent: “I wonder what you’d see for responses if you asked kids if they liked school in general? Using student quotes about a program is a poor metric when most young students would rather be doing something else on a computer (like Fortnite). Wrong metric.”
  13. Student 1 Response: “well here’s a kids response school sucks but i would rather jump off a cliff than do another iready lesson!”
  14. Student 2 Response: “That isn’t true for all students like me I’m an A student but I hate iready (even though I play games a lot)”
  15. Student: “I am a gifted student in an I-ready school who hates I-ready so much that I created a rebel alliance against it.”

A Florida parent named Deb Herbage wrote a scathing account about i-Ready i-Ready?…………More Like i-SCAM and Other Deceptions.In it she excoriates Jeb Bush saying,

“We have i-Ready, IRLA, Canvas, Nearpod, ReadyGen, MobyMax and a host of other ‘experimental’ programs and software that have been deceptively deployed in our schools that our kids are actively testing and helped ‘validate’ and refine. … With all these partnerships and alliances – it can become difficult to track these companies but they all seem to point in the same direction – Jeb Bush, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Common Core, education reform, the US DOE, the NGA, the CCSSO and the state of Florida.”

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind is an elementary math teaching specialist and the author of Math Exchanges: Guiding Young Mathematicians in Small-Group Meetings. She recently published to her blog, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Wedekind observed, “iReady, and assessments of this nature, overwhelming identify poor students and students of color as most in need of intervention.”

Conclusions

Programmed instruction, Mastery Learning, Outcome Based Education and Competency Based Education all were imposed on teachers and mostly imposed by non-educators. Instead of learning from practicing educators, theorists turned to behaviorist philosophy to create their ideologies. In the 21st century, education technology has also been imposed on educators, but not by misguided reformers. It is being sold by some of the largest corporations in the world who are looking for profits. Not all education technology is bad but lifeless lessons delivered on screens are harming both student health and their intellectual growth.

Pearson Embraces a Digital Knock-Off of Authentic Education

6 Jun

By T. Ultican 7/6/2019

The world’s largest publishing company is betting on cyber education. Great Britain’s Pearson Corporation took a financial beating when common core state testing did not turn into a planned for cash cow and concurrently the market for text books slowed. With its world-wide reach, Pearson’s new play is for digital education to open up global markets. The corporation envisions creating life-long relationships with its customers to provide virtual schooling, professional certifications, assessments, and other services.

In April, Education International Research published “Pearson 2025 Transforming teaching and privatising education data.” Authors Sam Sellar and Anna Hogan report,

“Pearson aims to lead the ‘next generation’ of teaching and learning by developing digital learning platforms, including Artificial Intelligence in education (AIEd). It is piloting new AI technologies that it hopes will enable virtual tutors to provide personalised learning to students, much like Siri or Alexa. This technology will be integrated into a single platform—Pearson Realize™—that has now been integrated with Google Classroom.”

“… [I]ts corporate strategy is premised upon creating disruptive changes to (a) the teaching profession, (b) the delivery of curriculum and assessment and (c) the function of schools, particularly public schooling. These disruptions do not follow a coherent set of educational principles, but capriciously serve the interests of the company’s shareholders.

Two main concerns accompany Person’s new agenda. (1) The privatization of data and infrastructure will turn the commons into private assets. (2) Diminishing the teaching profession will transform education from its broad purposes such as social development and creative thinking into a focus on individual knowledge and skills. And looming over the entire enterprise is the risk of data breach which is sure to occur. Sellar and Hogan note that securing data “can be difficult, if not impossible to achieve, even with the help of advanced privacy preservation techniques.

Pearson currently has a presence in 60 counties. One of their clients is Bridge International for which they provide digital services and scripted lessons for low cost privatized education in Africa. In Diane Ravitch’s new Book The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch, she notes this is the company whose founders claimed it had the potential to become a billion dollar company selling school for between $46 and $126 dollars per year to poor families. Besides Pearson, “the investors include Bill Gates, the Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the World Bank.

Sellar and Hogan note, “At the 2018 AGM [Annual General Meeting], Pearson announced a £750 million investment in new technologies and platforms to provide new digital services, which it claims will provide educators with real-time data and “smart” assessments for their students, blended learning models that partner with existing educational institutions, and new kinds of educational programming.

In the United States, Pearson is concentrating on expanding their virtual charter school business. Mercedes Schneider reported on Pearson’s February 2019 earnings call. She wrote,

“Pearson is focused on expanding its Connections Academy market. Pearson is undergoing restructuring; it has (and continues to) reduce its workforce and has been selling off less-profitable companies in an effort to recover from unrealized profits, including those Pearson expected from Common Core (CC) and CC-related PARCC testing.”

Pearson Call 4

Connections Academy Slide Pearson Presented at the 2019 Earning Call

Virtual Schools Bring Low Costs and Poor Academics

May 28th, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado released its annual report on virtual schools. The report was written by Alex Molnar, Gary Miron, Najat Elgeberi, Michael K. Barbour, Luis Huerta, Sheryl Rankin Shafer, and Jennifer King Rice. In the report introduction they state,

“Many argue that online curriculum can be tailored to individual students more effectively than curriculum in traditional classrooms, giving it the potential to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. These claims are not supported by the research evidence; nonetheless, the promise of lower costs—primarily for instructional personnel and facilities—continues to make virtual schools financially appealing to both policymakers and for-profit providers.”

In the 2017-18 school year, nearly 300,000 students were enrolled across 501 full-time virtual schools. Poor academic performance and terrible graduation rates were a consistent characteristic of these schools. The authors recommended, “Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.”

Emily Tate interviewed one of the report authors – Michael K. Barbour an NEPC Fellow – for her edsurge.com article, “Despite Poor Performance, Virtual School Enrollment Continues to Grow”. Tate wrote,

“But even as the sector grows, one thing remains constant, Barbour says: ‘Students in these programs—both full-time online programs and blended schools—tend not to do as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.’

“He adds: ‘There’s not really a rationale for the growth, based on performance.’”

In an April EdWeek article, Arianna Prothero and Alex Harwin reported, “Nationally, half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates below 50 percent in the 2016-17 school year.” They also shared, “The most high-profile study, done by economists at Stanford University in 2015, found that students attending an online charter school made so little progress in math over the course of a year that it was as if they hadn’t attended school at all.”

Prothero and Harwin’s article contains an interactive chart showing which cyber schools in each state did or did not achieve a 50% graduation rate over the past four years. “Out of the 163 schools, in some states, such as Indiana, not a single virtual charter school operating in 2016-17 had a graduation rate over 50 percent in the past four years.

If cyber schools have such poor academic outcomes, what explains parents putting their children in them? One clue can be found in a 2001 interview with Dick and Betsy DeVos at the Gathering, a group that Jay Michaelson describes as the “hub of Christian Right organizing.” Betsy said, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.” Dick lamented the fact that schools have displaced churches as the center of community activities. He then mentions that Bill Bennett is involved in something that could be quite helpful. He says Bennett’s new K12 Inc. cyber schools although not Christian could be a great help to Evangelical homeschoolers.

California Connections Academy

Map of California Connections Academy Structure

This Little Sis Map Shows the Structure of California Connections Academy in 2017

On September 18, 2018 a Mercury News lead read, “California has just kicked for-profit management companies out of the charter school business.” However, the new law is quite flawed. A for-profit company can create a non-profit to run the schools and then the non-profit in turn hires the for-profit management company to provide operating services and materials.

In 2011, Pearson Corporation purchased the cyber charter school company Connections Academy for $400,000,000. At the time Pearson said that this purchase gave them a leading position in the emerging cyber education arena.

Fortunately for Pearson, in California the Connections Academy cyber business was being run by the three non-profits shown in blue on the map. All three of the non-profits provide a similar explanation of their structure to this one in Capistrano Connections Academy’s 2016 form 990:

“Capistrano Connections Academy has a shared services agreement in place which includes the sharing of school staff and various other expenses between a network of charter schools. This agreement involves three non-profit public benefit corporations Capistrano Connections Academy, Alpaugh Academies, and friends of California Virtual Education. The school has also contracted with a third-party organization (Connections Academy of California, LLC a subsidiary of Connections Education, LLC) to provide educational products and services to the school. Due to delays in the receipts of state funding the school has arranged with Connections Education to process its payroll including the paying of school staff which requires the use of Connections Education, LLC’s EIN number. As part of this arrangement, the school reimburses connections education for paying staff as funding becomes available. As all staff members are reported on the school’s behalf using the EIN of Connections Education, LLC, no employees are listed as part of this return.”

There is some confusion in this statement. For example, Alpaugh Academies is also referred to as California on Line Public Schools (CalOps) and on December 18, 2017, Connections Academy of California, LLC submitted a termination statement to the California Secretary of State. It appears the Baltimore based Connections Education, LLC is now paying the bills and collecting the service fees through its Minnesota office. Also, there are two employees listed on the three non-profit tax form 990’s (Capistrano, CalOps and Friends). Director of Business Services, Franci Sassin receives more than $143,000 yearly and Executive Director, Richard Savage receives more than $225,000 yearly in total from the three non-profits.

There are four Connections Academy schools shown on the Little Sis map in yellow. In addition, a fifth school, California Connections Academy Central Coast is listed by the state as pending opening September 3, 2019. That must be one of the “strong pipeline of 2-5 new schools in 2019” Pearson referenced in their earnings call.

Locally we have been buzzing over the San Diego Union report, “Two charter school leaders illegally pocketed more than $50 million of state funds by siphoning the money through a network of 19 online charter schools across California which falsely enrolled thousands of students, prosecutors alleged Wednesday.” One of the issues cited in this scam was that little 145-student Dehesa School District in the mountains east of San Diego authorized 3 of these-cyber charters all outside of their district boundaries.

The Connections Academy model is not that different. According the 2018-2019 Connections Academy School Profile, “Capistrano Connections Academy is an accredited, virtual public charter school serving students in grades K–12 in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.” However, Capistrano Connections Academy is only authorized by one school district, Capistrano Unified. The other three schools have a similar territory outside of their authorizer’s district.

Table 1: Connections Academy Enrollment by Grade

Connections Academy Enrollment

What kind of education are those more than 1,000 students in the primary grades receiving? They certainly are not being socialized with other community members and it is well known that too much screen time is unhealthy for children.

Table 2: Connections Academy Graduation and ELL Rates Compared to the State

Connections Academy Graduation and EL

Sadly, these Connections Academy graduation rates are good compared to their peers in the cyber school industry. However, they are not acceptable as an education policy. In California, English language learners (ELL) are 19.3% of the enrollment which is by far the largest ELL percentage in the nation. As is typical of cyber schools the ELL percentage at Connections Academy is only 3.6%.

In an Education Week investigation of cyber schools, Benjamin Herold called it a “Broken Model” and summed it up this way,

“The schools are based on an educational model that doesn’t work for most kids. Many cyber operators have cashed in anyway, expanding aggressively, often with the help of their boards. Rather than pump the brakes, cyber authorizers have frequently gone along for the ride. And state lawmakers have repeatedly looked the other way, usually at the urging of lobbyists who fight tooth and nail against even modest attempts to improve oversight or limit growth.”

Some Conclusions

Pearson Corporation is an amoral entity that is not terribly invested in much beyond profit margin. They have made another bad bet. AI is science fiction and central to their latest education initiative is the Orwellianly labeled “personalized learning”. A Child sitting at screens responding to computer generated algorithms is as impersonal as it gets. Students hate it.

Policy makers like the cyber concept because they see the possibility of reducing the largest costs in public schools, teachers’ salaries and facilities. Reactionaries see cyber charters as one more positive step toward ending public education. However, people are catching onto this attack on the commons and do not like it.

Making war is not a legitimate central purpose of government; education is. Reduce the embarrassing military industrial complex and put some of those savings into revitalizing public education. Our children deserve small classes in top notch facilities that are well maintained and staffed with certificated professional educators.

It does not take much to see that a wide deployment of taxpayer-funded lightly-regulated cyber schools is a horrible idea. They already have a stunning history of corruption and bad outcomes. If homeschoolers choose to use cyber education, that is fine but there is no need for taxpayers to fund that private choice. There is a small legitimate need for cyber education, but those schools should be administered by elected school boards and not by profiteering corporations.