Thursday, May 19, 2011

From logo to logistics: curriculum control coming our way?

South Australian principals reading through the 2011 NAPLAN (national literacy and numeracy tests) Online Student Participation Website User Manual may or may not have noticed the Pearson logo sharing equal billing with that of DECS (SA Education Department).

However, they must surely have noticed that the website, on which they had to record their Statement of Compliance confirming that they had read and understood the NAPLAN Handbook for Principals, and to confirm or update student details, was not a DECS or DEEWR website, but the website of Pearson Online, and that it is a private multinational corporation.

Further, readers of that enlightening publication, Murdoch's Advertiser, may have seen the little column on May 12 that revealed that since the 2009 NAPLAN tests, Pearson Research and Assessment has had the contract to print, package, distribute and collect NAPLAN tests and results.

Storm in a teacup, or crony capitalism?

Get onto Pearson’s pearsonplaces website, and we find that simultaneously with the development of the new Australian Curriculum, Pearson’s “national author and review teams” have already produced texts and support materials for English, Science, Maths and History.

In fact the pearsonplaces website makes the Australian Curriculum look like a commodity marketed and distributed by the giant multinational.

So, a major corporation has used its smarts to get in quick and corner the market on texts for a new national curriculum. It’s also making big bucks out of NAPLAN. What’s the worry?

Time to revisit the educational cesspit of the United States.

The US is introducing a type of national curriculum for the first time. It is called Common Core Standards.

The Gates Foundation and the Pearson Foundation have teamed up to write a K-12 curriculum that will promote online learning and instructional video gaming.

Diane Ravitch, well-known educationalist and critic of standardized tests and “school choice”, was outraged.

“It is way past time to get mad,” she wrote. “When did we vote to hand over American education to them? Why would we outsource the nation’s curriculum to a for-profit publishing and test-making corporation based in London? Does Bill Gates get to write the national curriculum because he’s the richest man in America?”

The development of national curriculums means that publishers previously working within smaller state level markets now have national markets where a reduced range of products can be “taken to scale” (produced more cheaply with increased volume).

Pearson is moving quickly to capture not just the paper text book market, but the eText and iPad markets as well. They have teamed with Apple and the State of Virginia to run the first-ever complete social studies curriculum for the iPad, which will include games and self-test apps. If it is successful in Virginia, it will go national.

The transferability within English-speaking nations of certain curriculum and support materials (a shortcut to profits) is evidenced in pearsonplaces’ promotion of the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Systems “world-class literacy learning and assessment tools”. These were developed in the US and have been developed and used for over twenty years. Pearson is currently marketing them to Australian primary schools. The authors make no attempt to hide their “one size fits all” philosophy, stating that “When everyone in the school uses the same assessment, contnua and language as they move from observation to instruction, a common conversation occurs.”

If the big corporate octopus becomes any more involved with development of Australian curriculum materials and NAPLAN tests, will there ever be any place for the innovative and creative teacher who develops resources to suit the learning needs of diverse groups of students? Or will teachers simply become instructors of corporate classroom materials?

It is worth considering the approach adopted in Finland where the Minister for Education Henna Virkkunen praises the professionalism of educators:

“Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils. I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own pupils in schools.”

Amen to that!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

NCS Pearson had a 4-year, $40m contract with the State of Wyoming to design and mark tests to measure public school students in English, maths, reading and science. Most of the testing was done online, but there were major problems with software failure and test unreliability. Pearson has had to pay Wyoming $5.1m in compensation. The 2011 tests will be done with pencil and paper.