pearson and intellectual property 2
Daniel Katz on Pearson’s right to demand private student information and the response of governmental agencies.

 

The above is an excellent question put forward by Daniel Katz in his article Pearson’s Intellectual Property — Why Is This Even a Thing?

He writes about the uproar after Pearson initiated a “priority one alert” for a breech of test security within the district.  The NJ Department of Education contacted the district of the ‘offending student’ and questions are being raised about governmental agencies becoming the arm of the law for a private, non-governmental organization’s policies and the overreach of the NGO demanding such action.

He raises the question of those who defend Pearson’s actions as Pearson protecting its ‘intellectual property’:

Pearson’s hyperactive attitude towards test security is disturbing not only because of how it is being enacted without concern of proportion, privacy, and the implications of initiating state level investigations into unremarkable student speech.  It is also disturbing because of its connection to Pearson’s larger perspective on its intellectual property and the allowance the public sector gives them in defense of it.  While discussing this on Twitter, I encountered a user who stated that he “applauded” Pearson “defending its intellectual property,” which led me to a single question:

Why is Pearson’s intellectual property even a thing after it delivers a exam to be used for public education?

Considering the following:

  • PARRC was seeded with part of a federal grant worth over $300 million to create examinations for the Common Core State Standards.
  • Pearson was the only bidder for the contract to write the examinations for PARCC.
  • That makes the Pearson written PARCC examinations the only CCSS examination in 12 states and the District of Columbia — Pearson writes CCSS aligned examinations for other states such as New York.
  • Pearson’s contract with New Jersey alone is worth more than $100 million over 4 years.
  • The examination is high stakes – with implications for teacher evaluation and a possible future role in graduation requirements.
  • The examination is used by the state to fulfill federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act that all students in all schools between grades 3-8 and in grade 11 be tested in English and Mathematics.  Unlike other standardized examinations students takes, these exams are mandated by state and federal laws.
  • Pearson has no intention of releasing complete copies of this year’s exams even after they have been fully deployed and assessed.

 

Has he accurately pinpointed the reason public education should not be privatized (intellectual property/copyright concerns) and explained the reason why the responsibility of the direction/development of public education should remain in the states by local/state agencies?  Before Common Core and the birth of SBAC and PARCC, states were responsible for the educational direction/development of their own standards and assessments.  Were those state specific standards and assessments funded by taxpayers considered ‘intellectual property’ by the state educational agencies?  Did any ‘spying’ or ‘monitoring’ occur by any governmental body to catch any ‘breech of test security’?  The tests were taken via pen and paper and monitored by teachers and/or proctors to ensure cheating did not occur.  Prior to private NGOs directing/delivering assessments, were students ever tracked outside of the school building as to their remarks about the testing or particular questions?

Read the entire article here and his closing paragraphs where he gets to the true heart of this debate:

But when it comes to items that are not physical in nature, we accept an arrangement where the public foots enormous costs to only lease the product in question.  Think of electronic voting machines.  I can think of few things as important as protecting public confidence in the integrity of their vote, but companies are not required to make the code for voting machines open source and the public depends upon leaks to inform us of potential security holes in the devices.  Similarly, Pearson is providing a mandated service for our compulsory public education system, and the results of that service will have actual consequences not just for the individual teachers and students involved, but also for the entire system.  Confidence in what they are providing and informed decision making about whether or not what they are providing is desirable requires open and informed discussion and debate — such discussion and debate is impossible while Pearson’s intellectual property is valued more highly than the public purposes it allegedly serves.

In a small way, you cannot even blame Pearson.  They made contracts with states that allowed them to behave this way, and they are a publicly traded company with $17.75 billion in market capital.  Doing everything to maximize their revenue and return to investors is what they do and not a secret.  However, we elect governors who appoint leaders to state education departments; they represent us.  Craven obsequiousness in making contracts worth 100s of millions of taxpayers’ dollars is unnecessary and unacceptable.  It is possible, I suppose, that if our elected leaders and their appointees insisted upon reasonable contracts and the full disclosure of all test materials after the tests are over, then the cost would go up, perhaps to a level states could ill afford and leading to pulling back of the test and punish regime that is currently driving education policy and warping curriculum into test preparation.

Heavens.  That would be terrible.

 

The real villains in this Pearson debacle are the politicians and bureaucrats who are allowing and encouraging private NGOs to dictate education policy and delivery and not demanding the same accountability they are demanding from students and teachers.  They (governors, state superintendents and state board of education members) circumvented state constitutions to relieve state educational agencies of their obligation to direct/develop educational programs and handed it to private organizations which, while using public funding for development, face no public accountability.  As as we have seen, however, this NGO insists on public adherence or the public will face consequences set by that private organization.

Now we can expand the culpability to state legislatures who refuse to undo this framework of private organizations dictating public education.  As MEW wrote in November 2012:

Whether or not the organizations funding these “reforms” are left or right is inconsequential and the privatization blame of the educational system should not be placed on the corporations.  These organizations are just doing what corporations are allowed to do via political decisions.  The politicians and appointed officials are the ones to hold responsible in educational legislation, mandates and waste of billions of dollars.

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