Sunday, January 25, 2015

Leaving it to (Tinker + Evers +) Chance

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When I read the paper, I do not immediately turn to the sports page.

I like sports, but I’m not obsessed like I am about public education policy. Sports writing generally offers the best storytelling in the daily media. Sports is a (and the) metaphor for everything else and good sportswriting turns the dataset of the box score into elegiac prose and the mundane into matters of life+death; good v. evil.

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.

“A cyclone can't be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone starts from South Bend, where the candle lights still gleam through the Indiana sycamores, those in the way must take to storm cellars at top speed.

“Yesterday the cyclone struck again as Notre Dame beat the Army, 13 to 7, with a set of backfield stars that ripped and crashed through a strong Army defense with more speed and power than the warring cadets could meet."     - by Grantland Rice, NY Herald Tribune, 18 October 1924

Nobody ever wrote about a school board meeting – or a session on congress - with prose like that!

You want poetry?
“These are the saddest of possible words:
‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’”
- By Franklin Pierce Adams, NY Evening Mail, July 10, 1910

Sure it’s over the top, but that’s what a zenith is. There’s no half way: It’s Henry V at the dawn of St Crispin’s; it’s a sonnet by the bard or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

LAST WEEK a sports reporter reported on the findings of an ivory-tower economist and his theory []. It becomes at first-read the most assessable (and most practical) instance of game theory: "The study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” They give Nobel Prizes for game theory; Russell Crowe plays game theorists in the movies.

Except this one’s isn’t really about intelligent rational decisions. It’s about firing football coaches.

Cue the cheerleaders! Block that metaphor! How can any of this have anything possibly to do with the subject matter of this blog? Read on:

THE HYPOTHESIS: Systematic elimination of losing coaches by NFL teams generally leads to weaker performance among those teams in the following few years.

THE FINDING: Michael Roach, PhD, professor of Economics at Middle Tennessee State University analyzed all pro football teams between 1995 and 2012, and he measured the effect of a change in head coach. And he finds, on average, that teams do worse after changing their head coach. They don’t do as well as they did the year before. Or the next couple of years.

Every team (school board) believes it has the unique power to spot+hire the head coach/superintendent who can turn things around. But very often head coaching/superintendent changes are really based on not liking the guy that you have rather than a rational decision about whether there's somebody better to come in and take his place.

Regardless of whether you do well or poorly after firing a head coach, Roach's analysis finds you would probably have done even better if you had not changed coaches.

Dr. Roach’s theory is based on bunch of factors: Human Nature/The grass is greener / Next year HAS to be the Cubs’ Year! / “This clown is so bad, the next guy should be Vince Lombardii!”

But, Statistical Analysis fans, the truth is that this whole wretched mess is governed the phenomenon called Reversion (or Regression) to the Mean: The probability density function P(x) of any random variable x, by definition, is nonnegative over every interval and integrates to one over the interval. Thus, as you move away from the mean, the proportion of the distribution that lies closer to the mean than you do increases continuously | For English Speakers: Performance-over-time, whether in the classroom, the gridiron or the superintendent’s office tends to get drawn toward the average. If you are lousy one year, it's just statistically likely that you're going to be better the next year. This is something that fans/observers/bloggers often miss. When you change a head coach and you go from being a 2-14 team to an 8 and 8 team, what you don't know is if the same thing would have happened under the old coach as well.

“Wait a minute Scott!” you are saying. “You are stretching the sports metaphor too far! The animals in Orwell’s farm were just animals! Melville’s whale was just a fish!”

“…And the last superintendent was so bad it’s impossible to do worse!”


(And no offense is intended to any current superintendent.)

For a guy who doesn’t get out much I hang with a strange group of folks – educators and administrators and policy makers and the odd politician …folks I think are movers-and-shakers. And they ask me what I think about The Next Superintendent. This is aggravating because I want to know what they think …but the truth is that it is good we are thinking and asking.

This is not Saudi Arabia where the next oldest half-brother gets the job.

IMHO, Ray Cortines is leading this District well.

“Compared to what?” I ask myself, “his predecessor …or his predecessor’s predecessor?”

Wait … he is that guy! And even then it was his second time around. Scott Fitzgerald did not have the superintendent in mind when he said there are no second acts in American life.

Supt. Cortines will certainly lead his district though this budget cycle/school year and probably into and maybe through the next.

Kevin Gordon of California education consultants Capitol Advisors advised the Board on Tuesday that this district needs to be making long term financial plans beyond the current budget cycle and legislative term. The budget cycle and the lege term are, despite lofty claims of “local control” and pretense at subsidiarity - not curiously/coincidentally aligned. They are one and the same.

The same can and must be said about planning for District Leadership moving forward.

LAUSD can do a national recruitment and still hire one of our own. That search begins with a conversation – even before the board posts the job listing or issues an RFP for a search firm it needs to set (and I say share) the criteria of what they are looking for – with requirements and expectations and all the rest.

This is the moment, carpe deum.

¡Onward/Adelante! - smf


The LAUSD Regional Academic Decathlon competition will take place on Saturday, January 31, and Saturday, February 7, 2015, at the Roybal Learning Center. The events are still not fully staffed and volunteers are needed, especially for the speech and interview events on January 31, 2015.
Please come out and see the remarkable students who participate in this program. A volunteer application and more information are available at
Please contact Cliff Ker at or 213.241.3503 for more information.

by Emily Richmond | EWA’s The Educated Reporter |

January 21, 2015 For the policy wonks and advocates hoping for more than a passing mention of K-12 education in President Obama’s State of the Union, it was a long 59 minutes.

There was a quick moment Tuesday night in which the president praised public schools for improving graduation rates, along with math and reading scores. He also highlighted the value of universal childcare (which is not the same as preschool), the importance of protecting student data, and expanding digital access to the nation’s classrooms.

On the higher education side, the focus was on a plan to make the first two years of community college free to most students, revising the tax code to provide more effective credits for education, and reducing the staggering burden of student loans. That wasn’t unexpected, given both proposals were recently rolled out.

“Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt,” Obama said Tuesday. “Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.”

But there was no mention of academic standards (no one really expected him to use the words “Common Core”). And “teachers” doesn’t appear anywhere in the text. Some pundits had predicted mention of the federal push to upgrade the quality of the nation’s teacher preparation programs. That didn’t happen. The closest the president got to talking about testing, arguably one of the most pressing issues for educators, parents, and policymakers, was that reference to improved math and reading scores.

In the New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni offers a trenchant criticism of the free college proposal, noting that it won’t do much good unless more students are actually prepared for the academic challenges of higher education. That means improving the quality of K-12 instruction — through better teacher training and the use of higher academic standards, Bruni said. From his column Tuesday:

“We need to raise standards. That’s in fact what the Common Core is ideally about, and that’s why the education secretary, (U.S. Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan, under harsh attack, remains wedded to a certain amount of testing. High standards without monitoring and accountability are no standards at all.

“The goal is to lift children from all income groups up — and to maximize their chances of success with higher education. Their failure to complete higher education isn’t just a function of financial hardships and related stresses, though those are primary reasons. Academic readiness factors in.”

Indeed, K-12 education is the focus today on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers are holding hearings on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s a long-overdue conversation: No Child Left Behind has been in place since 2002, and was due to be re-upped in 2007.

Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said he wasn’t surprised that the president didn’t mention ESEA. But he suggested that was a missed opportunity.

The president “avoided the one area of education policy where there is potential for bipartisan agreement,” Petrilli told me. “He’s playing politics instead of governing.”

I asked Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst for Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based organization (who, incidentally, was the big winner of #EWABingo last night on Twitter) for her thoughts on the State of the Union.

She had anticipated a dearth of K-12 policy in the speech, given that early education and higher ed have taken the spotlight the past couple of years. That doesn’t mean the Obama Administration doesn’t have irons in those fires, however.

“Secretary Duncan laid out his priorities for reauthorization last week in an important policy speech, and there really isn’t anything more to say until Congress begins negotiating the bill and making changes through the amendment process,” Hyslop told me. “That said, the administration was largely absent from the last effort to reauthorize the law, so I consider those remarks a positive step in getting all of the key players to the negotiating table.”

In the long run, talking about education one night of the year isn’t an accurate barometer of a president’s priorities. Obama’s legacy will reflect the billions of dollars in stimulus money distributed to public schools through competitive grants, all of which “sparked significant change at the state level, despite a lack of progress on NCLB,” Hyslop said.

Those programs, coupled with the waivers Duncan has issued to the majority of states — allowing them to escape the more onerous provisions of NCLB in exchange for making changes in key areas like teacher evaluations — make it clear that “Secretary Duncan has accomplished an enormous amount of work in K-12 over the course of six years,” Hyslop said.

The Department of Education might be better off focusing on the ambitious K-12 education initiatives already in play, rather than introducing a new program when its influence is diminishing and the Obama Administration’s time in office is winding down, Hyslop said.

And given a choice, Hyslop said, she would take “actual policy changes over proposals, like free community college, that are unlikely to pass a Republican Congress any day.

Text of President Obama's State of the Union address

By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

1/23/15, 6:45 PM PST :: Los Angeles Unified reported that 3.6 percent fewer students attended class during the first semester, according to data released this week -- a drop that could cost the school district more than $100 million.

The average daily attendance of 513,765.9 that LAUSD reported to the state earlier this month as part of a mandatory process used to determine funding for school districts is down from 532,932.8 reported last year, according to preliminary figures released this week.

For every 3 percent drop in average daily attendance, the district can expect to lose roughly $100 million in state funding, its primary source of revenue. If the district hopes to collect on its current attendance estimate, it will need to provide records for auditors to examine.

But providing records has been a monumental struggle this year for the school district after it rolled out a new record keeping system, MiSiS, which has bungled attendance records since its August launch.

What should be a cursory step of submitting data to state education officials in January and April has become a cumbersome task due to MiSiS’ failures, which forced educators to revert to paper forms for taking attendance.

“Our team continues to address the tremendous backlog of attendance data that must be entered into MiSiS in order to claim critical revenue for the district,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines wrote in an update Friday to school board members.

The district will need to have its daily attendance figures nailed down and backed up with records by April 21, the state’s deadline. The current figure was reported Jan. 13. It is primarily used for California to formulate its budget, while the April deadline will be used to calculate how much funding LAUSD receives.

While an estimated 650,000 students are enrolled in LAUSD, an average of 513,765 were in class during the first semester, according to the figures reported to the state this month. If last year is any indicator, the number will go down over this semester as students drop out and leave the district for other reasons.

In April 2014, LAUSD reported an average daily attendance that was about 5,008 students fewer — 0.94 percent less — than it was during school’s first semester, according to records LAUSD released this week.

District officials can petition the state for a waiver from stringent attendance reporting guidelines. Assistant General Counsel John Walsh said officials have yet to determine whether they will need to make such a request.

LAUSD has yet to determine what portion of the 3.6 percent drop may be due to MiSiS versus an actual decline in attendance. Acting Budget Director Cheryl Simpson said attendance declines in recent years are typically about 3 percent.

The cost of fixing MiSiS will also weigh on next year’s budget, as some district insiders estimate the system’s original price tag of $25 million could quadruple, costing more than $100 million.

Meanwhile, the district is locked in contentious pay negotiations with its 35,000-member teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. LAUSD officials have said they can’t afford to meet UTLA’s demands for an immediate pay hike of 9 percent, instead offering on Jan. 14 a 4 percent raise and negotiations for further raises in future years. UTLA responded to that offer in a public statement that announced $3 million had been allocated to a “strike fund,” in preparation for a rally at Pershing Square on Feb. 26 and other actions aimed at preparing for a strike.

by Jennifer Reingold | Fortune Magazine |
This story is from the February 2015 issue of Fortune.

January 21, 2015, 7:00 AM EST :: Okay, not everybody. The venerable publishing company is trying to reinvent itself for the Digital Age—­­in the most fraught, political, emotion-racked field there is: your children’s education. That’s stirring up a lot of anger.

John Fallon doesn’t look like the devil incarnate. With his ruddy cheeks and cheerful-but-not-too-posh English accent, Fallon, 52, seems more like a buddy from the local pub than the chief executive of a company with $8.2 billion in revenues that is trying to recast global education—and managing to upset a lot of people in the process.

Fallon, who succeeded longtime Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino in January 2013, is at the helm of an ambitious quest to reinvent the 171-year-old publishing company, best known for its ownership of the Financial Times and its international textbook business, as a “global learning services company.” The goal is not merely to build a more successful and sustainable business—an imperative as Pearson’s traditional print operations shrivel—but also to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world. “It doesn’t matter to us whether our customers are hundreds of thousands of individual students and their parents in China, or thousands of school districts in America,” says Fallon. “What we’re trying to do is the same thing—to help improve learning outcomes.”

The problem is, legions of parents, teachers, and others see the new Pearson in a very different light. Many of them, particularly in North America, where the company does some 60% of its sales, think of it as the Godzilla of education. In their view, Pearson is bent on controlling every element of the process, from teacher qualifications to curriculums to the tests used to evaluate students to the grading of the tests to, increasingly, owning and operating its own learning institutions.

Liberals distrust Pearson’s profits: “Always earning,” snipes teacher Pamela Casey Nagler in a blog, mocking the company’s “always learning” slogan. Conservatives despise the idea of foreigners shaping U.S. education. “We feel like Pearson is an alien enemy and they are propagandizing our children,” says Chris Quackenbush of Stop Common Core Florida. Others malign Pearson’s competence, its “history of mistakes,” according to a recent letter signed by 47 New York City school principals.

Most of all, people fear the company’s reach. Alan Singer, a professor of secondary education at Hofstra University in New York who has written extensively about the company, calls Pearson a corporate “octopus.” Diane Ravitch, the former Department of Education official and author of the bestselling Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, has derided what she calls “the Pearsonizing of the American mind.” The company’s name has penetrated far enough into popular culture that comedian Louis C.K., whose daughters attend public school, has blasted Pearson in tweets.

Education has always been a fraught field, of course. Few things are more emotional than shaping the minds of children, as Pearson learned during decades in the textbook business. But today standardized testing seems to many to have become the goal of education—as embodied in the No Child Left Behind program and the new Common Core ­standards—rather than a means of implementing it. Add in the increased use of technology to teach students, government cutbacks, and the private-sector-funded reform movement, and companies have more clout than ever when it comes to what and how kids are taught.

In the U.S., testing is the most searingly divisive issue. The business of assessing students through high school has grown 57% in just the past three years, to $2.5 billion, according to the Software & Information Industry Association. Some believe “high-stakes testing” is the best way to create accountability; others think it measures little and incentivizes the wrong things. Either way, it is now the largest segment within educational technology—and in little more than a decade, Pearson has gone from no presence to dominating the realm.

Fallon has gotten used to absorbing jeers aimed at Pearson. He emphasizes that the company’s goal is to help students succeed—and that the ultimate decisions remain in the hands of educators and government officials. Moreover, the company says its research indicates that among Americans who’ve heard of Pearson, 83% have a positive impression of it. “It’s inevitable in a field as important as education that feelings are strong,” Fallon says. “We are here to serve parents, governments, teachers, and most importantly students. We’re trying to take the right actions for the long term, rather than the most popular ones. And if sometimes that means we get both praise and criticism—hopefully that shows we are charting a sensible middle path.” He insists, “the more people engage with Pearson, the more they tend to say, ‘You’re not who we thought you were.’ ”

Pearson’s push into data-driven education has been a smart strategy. It began with Scardino, who expanded Pearson’s publishing and education brands far beyond Penguin and the FT during her 16-year tenure. And it has accelerated under Fallon, who has expanded further into emerging markets and who has spent the past two years trying to wrestle a hodgepodge of businesses into a more coherent whole.

Fallon has restructured Pearson, cutting $215 million in costs and 4,000 jobs and acquiring digital and other education businesses overseas, most recently Brazil’s Grupo Multi chain of English-language school centers for $721 million. Net income has fallen some 18% since 2011, to $854 million in 2013, because of restructuring charges and the fact that the decline in the old businesses is outpacing the growth of new ones. But the company’s stock has stayed relatively flat, partly because Fallon has adroitly reduced expectations, likening Pearson’s reinvention to IBM’s move from hardware into services. He now says that the restructuring into what he calls a focused “One Pearson” is largely complete.

It sure hasn’t been easy. “John Fallon has had the most enormous baptism of fire,” says Tom Singlehurst, head of European media equity research at Citigroup. With the culture of standardized testing—which has been a cash cow for Pearson—under attack, Fallon has to convince the world that the company is truly a force for learning, and not just the executor of an approach that may soon fall out of fashion.


Fallon imbibed the world of education, if only indirectly, growing up in Manchester, England:
His father was an elementary school principal. But Fallon didn’t initially go into the field. Instead he worked his way up through local government and then into Pearson’s communications and international divisions. A survivor of throat cancer, he has become the earnest and forthright ambassador-proselytizer for the company and its ambitions.

Pearson’s theoretician is Michael Barber, its chief education adviser. Barber, 59, may today be the single most influential educator on the face of the earth. A onetime professor at the University of London, he still has the distant, abstracted air of an academic. Barber was a key architect of England’s educational reform under then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, which involved closing underperforming schools and toughening national standards. Blair later asked Barber to apply the same approach to other services. (His work earned him a knighthood.) After leaving government, Barber became the head of McKinsey’s education practice, then moved to Pearson in 2011. In 2013 he published a report, “The Good News From Pakistan,” examining the positive results of his education philosophy—which has the uneuphonious name “deliverology”—in that country’s Punjab region.

The rumpled Barber downplays the company’s influence, then describes what to an American’s ears sounds like advocating global educational standards. “It’s not remotely true to say we are setting the global standards,” he says. “What is happening is a global economy and technological change and that affects every walk of life. It’s not caused by Pearson. It’s caused by globalization. Students are going to be part of a global labor market. Either the work moves or the people move. People who emerge into a labor market will struggle with employment, and we see that now across Europe and America. That’s just the way the world is changing. We want to make sure when we say someone is good at math they are good at math anywhere in the world.”

For all the breadth of Pearson’s education ambitions, it has been in the business for a relatively brief moment in the corporation’s long history. The S. Pearson & Son construction company was founded in Yorkshire in 1844. By the end of the century, Pearson had become a giant whose projects included the Sennar Dam in Egypt, railroads in China, and even a tunnel under the Hudson River in New York City.

In the 1920s, Pearson diversified, buying the Lazard investment bank as well as the Château Latour winery and the Madame Tussaud wax museum. It then expanded into newspapers and book publishing in the 1950s and ’60s. When conglomerates went out of fashion, Pearson concentrated on media and publishing, focusing on what was then a steady, high-cash-flow business. CEO Scardino doubled down, buying Simon & Schuster’s education division for $4.6 billion in 1998 and selling off Tussaud and Lazard. Pearson was now the largest education publisher worldwide.

The real goal was bigger still. Education around the world was moving toward greater testing and use of technology. So in 2000, Pearson spent $2.5 billion to acquire NCS, the largest American testing company, and began developing educational products that went beyond the textbook. “Content has been king,” Scardino told The Wall Street Journal at the time, “but now we’ll have the ability to put content and applications together, and that will really allow us to be king.”

The move coincided with the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind initiative, which required districts to measure student and school progress through increased testing. The viewpoint was clear: Schools were failing their students, and the best way to improve was to understand—and measure—what teachers and students were getting wrong.

The assessment push continued under President Obama, who required states to compete against one another for federal education funding—using testing as the metric—in the government’s Race to the Top. And then, in 2009, 46 states committed to tougher new standards under the rubric of the Common Core, in hopes of reversing the steep decline in the performance of American students relative to those in other countries. That meant new teaching materials, new technology, and, of course, new exams—and Pearson was perfectly positioned, having already bought up many testing businesses.

Today analysts think Pearson controls some 60% of the North American testing market. “From 30,000 feet, the strategy makes sense,” says Claudio Aspesi, senior research analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “If you believe in the societal pressure to drive improvement in educational outcomes and there’s not money to put more teachers against students, the next best strategy is to try to use technology.” Pearson was no longer a sleepy textbook publisher; it was now a powerful player in every corner of a burgeoning but more controversial industry, one that spurs deep anxiety in the lives of millions of families.


It’s almost midnight, and my daughter is calling to me. She went to bed hours ago, but she is so stressed—at age 10—that she can’t sleep. She will do this nearly every night for two weeks until she finally takes the long-dreaded New York State English Language Arts exam.

Pearson is a palpable presence in her education at P.S. 41 in Manhattan. The company developed much of the school’s fourth-grade English curriculum as part of the Common Core standards. Pearson also designed the test for it.

All of this in an education world where tests increasingly are the be-all and end-all. “Mom,” she says, tears spilling onto her pillow, “why is one test so important?” She answers her own question with grim, distressing logic: “If I don’t do well on the fourth-grade test, I won’t get into a good middle school. If I don’t get into a good middle school, then I won’t get into a good high school, and if I don’t do that, I won’t get into a good college, and then I won’t get a good job.”

I cringe, feeling that I have failed as a parent if this is what she believes. And yet she has a point. In New York City, that test helps determine which middle school you get into. In her classroom, the pressure was so great that the teacher referred to the tests by aliases: the “waka-waka” and the “whablah.” They were the elementary-school equivalent, it seemed, of Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort, more commonly referred to as “he who must not be named.”

In a remarkably short time, the worthy notion of holding students and teachers accountable seems to have morphed into a system centered on “teaching to the test.” Parents who first welcomed higher standards now protest weeks of frantic test preparation; some principals have threatened to opt out of the exams altogether. Says Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education (who worked with Pearson to develop a test, the EdTPA, for evaluating teachers): “Until about 2002, there was always an understanding that tests are prone to error, that they only measure a narrow slice, and that they should only be one piece of information among others. We’ve lost that perspective in policy.”

This is not Pearson’s fault, of course. State and local governments made the policy choices. Yet it is fully in the company’s interest for standardized testing to increase (a December 2014 company report trumpets the coming “renaissance in assessment”). Fallon is quick to defend the principle, saying that the rise of big data allows for the opportunity to improve learning by measuring exactly what is and isn’t working. “This idea of the shift from sort of inputs to outcomes, I think, is one that is now becoming all-pervasive in pretty much every area of public policy,” he says. “So why should education be any different?”

To be successful in measuring outcomes requires not only good intentions, but also competence. And here, Pearson has some explaining to do. Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an advocacy organization that says it “works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing,” has kept a log of the company’s quality-control problems. The low lights include everything from printing errors to frozen screens at test time in 26 Florida counties.

FairTest says Pearson has made 13 significant errors from 2013 to today, including scoring mistakes that prevented 5,300 students from qualifying for gifted and talented programs in New York City. The company mis-scored questions on Virginia’s Alternative Assessment Program for students with learning disabilities—leading to 4,000 students being told they had passed the test when they had actually failed it. (In each instance Pearson rectified the problem once it came to light.) Argues Schaeffer: “There’s been a higher percentage of reported foul-ups by Pearson than by other companies.”

The company questions the findings. “We’ve never seen any methodology to suggest Pearson is less accurate than any other assessment company,” a spokesperson says. “In fact, we believe we are one of the most accurate.” He adds, “Any time mistakes occur, however rare, that’s unacceptable to us.”

Pearson’s behavior in winning lucrative contracts has also sometimes been troubling. The company used its nonprofit foundation—led primarily by Pearson executives—to pay for education leaders to take expensive trips to such places as Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and Helsinki as they were contemplating hiring Pearson to develop the materials for their states’ version of the Common Core. In 2011, New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into such behavior. Pearson settled the case in 2013 without admitting wrongdoing, paying a $7.7 million fine and agreeing to separate its foundation’s efforts from those of the company. Said Pearson at the time: “We recognize there were times when the governance of the foundation and its relationship with Pearson could have been clearer and more transparent.” In November 2014, Pearson announced it was closing the foundation altogether. It appeared to have little further utility.

Another mess involves a partnership between Pearson, Apple, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, which in 2013 announced a $1.3 billion project to provide an iPad, loaded with Pearson educational material, to each of the 650,000 students in the district. The plan immediately bogged down in bureaucracy, technological problems (kids disabled controls and used the tablet to surf inappropriate sites), and accusations of influence buying by the winning bidders. Public radio station KPCC reported that the company’s foundation subsidized attendance by educators, including some members of the bid committee, at a Pearson conference. (The company denies providing subsidies.) At the conference, Pearson distributed iPads to the attendees. (The company says recipients agreed to use them only for district business.) All this took place before the bidding process had even begun. The FBI is investigating—it seized boxes of documents from the LAUSD offices in December—and the new schools supervisor terminated the contract last fall, announcing he would put it out to bid once more. Pearson says it has not been asked to provide information to investigators.

In other places, complaints about the state’s contract and oversight process could hurt the company. In Texas, for example, where Pearson has a $468 million contract to provide tests and educational materials, an audit found poor monitoring of the billing process at the Texas Education Agency. The same audit found that Pearson hired 11 staffers from the agency, two of them involved with the contract, shortly after it awarded the contract to the company (the agency waived rules delaying some of the employees from being hired by state vendors). As a result of that association—and complaints from school activists about how parts of U.S. history have been treated in its texts—some observers believe Pearson’s contract may not be renewed.

Fallon was not the CEO when those incidents occurred, but the task of improving the company’s reputation is falling to him. Adding to the pressure is the growing backlash against Common Core—which has been so beneficial to Pearson’s fortunes in recent years. Already three states have dropped out, and antipathy is mounting from both the left and the right. Schaeffer of FairTest thinks the movement may be rolled back now that Republicans are in charge of Congress. Even Fallon acknowledges that something has gone awry. “I do think as a wider community we have to put assessment and testing into context,” he says. “And I do think we have to be wary of layering too many different things onto one moment in time.”

That said, even if the standards are changed, they are likely to be replaced by new standards—and Pearson remains one of the only players with the size and scope to handle large testing or curriculum contracts. Pearson doesn’t enjoy the withering criticism from countless directions, but the truth is, it may not matter that much: Even if the curriculum changes drastically, the company may well still provide the means by which it is disseminated.


Testing has helped Pearson reduce its dependence on old-fashioned publishing. Since 2008 its U.S. textbook revenues have fallen an estimated 17%; sales at the FT Group, despite recent improvements, have dropped 29% since 2005, in part because of divestitures. Meanwhile some 60% of Pearson’s revenues now come from what it calls “digital and services”—which basically includes every revenue source other than those from printed materials—compared with 37% in 2006.

Online education is clearly a huge opportunity for Pearson. It’s cheap and accessible anywhere that has an Internet connection. E-learning was a $91 billion market in 2012, according to an estimate by IBIS Capital, and it’s growing fast.

So Fallon is now pushing Pearson toward direct-to-­consumer education, primarily overseas. There are millions of potential customers, mostly adults, who often don’t have access to top universities or vocational schools. It would allow the company to diversify out of North America, and needless to say, selling directly to adults is less emotionally charged than the K-12 market. It’s also a way for Pearson to put its outcome-based strategy in place with less interference, and—the company hopes—show that it works. Says Tamara Minick-Scokalo, head of international for Pearson: “Where we can really play a role is in doing more of the total education value chain.” Translated from management jargon into plain English, her statement seems to confirm every critic’s worst fears: Pearson wants to be involved at every stage of education.

Since 2010, Pearson has spent more than $2 billion on international adult education: The purchases include a 75% stake in CTI, a chain of computer-training schools in South Africa; Wall Street English, an English-language school business in China; and, as noted earlier, the Multi chain of English-language schools in Brazil, for $721 million. Pearson is also helping run and promote the online degree programs at schools such as Rutgers, the University of Florida, and Arizona State—which is likely to receive a windfall with Starbucks’ 2014 announcement that it will pay for full-time employees’ college studies, as long as they enroll at ASU Online. More than 1,000 students are already enrolled.

All of this change, including Fallon’s strong shift to centralization, has shaken Pearson itself, which was long a diffused, friendly, and somewhat sleepy organization. Morale has tumbled; reviews on the career site describe a scene of constant reorganizations and confusion, with only half saying they support the CEO. One typical comment, from a self-described VP: “ ‘One Pearson’ is a nice motto theoretically, but may not work operationally because aircraft carriers are hard to turn. John Fallon, your good intentions are getting lost in the botched handling of the most recent reorganizations. Get real and listen to the folks in the trenches.”

To his credit, Fallon is trying. He is making town halls and interactions with employees as central to his job as time with investors and clients. At a meeting with the Boston community college sales team—as well as at a later sit-down with students and faculty at Bunker Hill Community College—he responded to tough questions honestly and came across as authentic. “What are we not doing well?” he asked more than once and then listened intently. Employees weren’t shy, volunteering struggles with faulty technology and lamenting the large amount of turnover in the Boston offices.

Fallon is also trying to make Pearson more accountable—only logical for a company that is helping to set the world’s educational standards. In late 2013 he announced that Pearson would, in effect, eat its own cooking. Much as it assesses others, it would assess its own performance, reporting the results in each business publicly by 2018 in what it calls “efficacy.” Pearson has developed specific criteria for the success of each business or initiative with more than $1 million in sales, says Barber, and promises that it will publish the results and hold itself to those standards.

The level of disclosure goes far beyond what most public companies are required to report. Fallon says that if Pearson’s programs are not having the desired outcome—if, say, English-language improvements in its Chinese schools do not meet the criteria—the company will abandon them. “If we say our purpose is to help people make progress in their lives through learning,” he says, “we’d better be able to demonstrate that.” The move requires guts—after all, few companies willingly put themselves under a microscope—but it’s worth noting that the company has given itself five years to get ready. That’s far more than many of its own customers receive.

Can Pearson make the grade? Fallon has the vision—and for a little while longer, at least, the apparent support of investors. Yet the internal challenges, not to mention the external opprobrium, mean the strategy’s success is not at all assured. “I think [Pearson] would be delighted to have as much clout as [the critics believe],” says Bernstein’s Aspesi. Fallon has set the timer; now he needs to pass the test.

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
How many deaths will it take ‘till we know
That too many people have died?

• 13-Year-Old Arrested for Allegedly Stabbing East L.A. Student to Death With Scissors |
• Student Fatally Stabbed With Scissors at East L.A. Middle School; Attacker Sought |

••smf: Just because it’s probably “gang related” doesn’t mean these young lives are less important than – say – how much air was in the footballs.

NO MEASLES VACCINATION?: "Don't go to Disneyland!" state says” |



AP: Judge orders NC schools to explain 'academic double-speak'






TWEET: Celebrating #MLK legacy at the #LA #KingdomDayParade with @LASchools All City Marching Band! ”


CA STATE BUDGET: LAO Releases Overview Report on 2015-16 Budget |

"Come on, governor, don't be so cheap. Give the kids a good place to learn." | GOV. BROWN SHOULD BEND ON SCHOOL BONDS |

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Live video stream for this mtg:

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• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-5555 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6387
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Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and was Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and has represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for over 12 years. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT "WHO" Gold Award and the ACSA Regional Ferd Kiesel Memorial Distinguished Service Award - honors he hopes to someday deserve. • In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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