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Incompetent Pearson “Wins” PARCC Contract. Big Surprise.

May 2, 2014

In his six-minute videoed speech on the necessity of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), billionaire Bill Gates patiently explains that it is not enough for individual states to implement their own standards because “scale is good for free market competition.”

Here is the reality of “free market competition” in this time of unprecedented education profiteering: A few education/assessment giants will run American public education (and beyond, as some private and parochial schools sell their freedom for access to state or federal tax dollars).

One of those few is the ubiquitous Pearson.

CCSS was tailor-made for Pearson. It is quite the love story.

Pearson is one-stop CCSS shopping, from curriculum, to assessments, to evaluation of teacher training… and Bill Gates has even paid Pearson’s nonprofit to assist with the endeavor.

Gates’ assistance is apparently paying off; on May 2, 2014, Pearson “landed a major contract… of unprecedented scale” with another nonprofit (a popular way to set up reformer shop), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). As EdWeek’s Sean Cavanaugh notes:

The global education company Pearson has landed a major contract to administer tests aligned to the common-core standards, a project described as being of “unprecedented scale” in the U.S. testing arena by one official who helped negotiate it. 

The decision to award the contract, announced Friday, was made by a group of states developing tests linked to the common core for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two main consortia of states creating exams to match the standards. 

Pearson is expected to perform a broad range of duties under the contract, including development of test items, delivery of paper-and-pencil and computerized test forms, reporting of results, analysis of scores, and working with states to develop “cut scores,” or performance standards for the exams.  [Emphasis added.]

He who controls the cut scores controls American public education. Period.

There’s more:

While a number of companies inquired in response to PARCC’s request for proposals for the project, ultimately Pearson was the only bidder, said James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract as part of a team of PARCC state leaders.  [Emphasis added.]

Pearson “the only bidder”??

So much for that “free market competition.”

Here is an important question:

Who will “assess” Pearson?

Allow me.  Based upon its established history of testing errors, and scoring and reporting mishaps, Pearson deserves an F. However, I suppose if it is “the only bidder,” American education just has to “settle,” right? I mean, there’s no time to think this through, what with our oligarchic-pushed, urgent race for education world domination and baffling standardized test worship, right?

And yet, the cracks in the Pearson pedestal have been pronounced for years.

In September 2013, FairTest Public Education Director Bob Shaeffer compiled a list of Pearson’s testing errors, questionable practices, and subsequent fines/lawsuits dating back to 1998.

Shaeffer documented 38 incidents– 24 of which have happened since 2011.

High-stakes testing failures have high-stakes consequences. Here are several highlights from Schaeffer’s list:

2000 Minnesota misgraded 45,739 graduation tests leads to lawsuit with $11 million settlement – judge found “years of quality control problems” and a “culture emphasizing profitability and cost-cutting.”

2005 Virginia — computerized test misgraded – five students awarded $5,000 scholarships 

2009-2010 Wyoming – Pearson’s new computer adaptive PAWS flops; state declares company in “complete default of the contract;” $5.1 million fine accepted after negotiations but not pursued by state governor


2012 New York –More than two dozen additional errors found in New York State tests developed by Pearson 

2012 New York –More than 7,000 New York City elementary and middle school students wrongly blocked from graduation by inaccurate “preliminary scores” on Pearson tests 

2012 Mississippi – Pearson pays $623,000 for scoring error repeated over four years that blocked graduation for five students and wrongly lowered scores for 121 others

2013 New York –Pearson makes three test scoring mistakes blocking nearly 5,000 students from gifted-and-talented program eligibility

2013 Virginia –4,000 parents receive inaccurate test scorecards due to Pearson error in converting scores to proficiency levels

There you have it, folks: The “unleashing of powerful market forces” that Bill Gates told legislators in 2009 they had the means to make happen to American public education. Indeed, Gates “urged” them:

Without measurement, there is no pressure for improvement. …

I would urge the legislators here (with colleges) to start the push to greater measurement …

This is encouraging—but identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.

Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests—next-generation assessments aligned to the common core.

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. … [Emphasis added.]

In his utter ignorance, Gates, believes that “market forces” will “serve better teaching.”

In February 2011, Gates paid Pearson $3 million to develop courses for middle school math and high school English.

Had Bill done his homework, he might not have dropped $3 million on a “global corporation” that cannot seem to master proofreading, scoring, and reporting results for its own tests.

Think of the science-fiction-styled chaos that Pearson might wield in its marriage to PARCC tests.

This latest Pearson contract underscores the need for CCSS to die.

CCSS was created to standardize American education– not to improve it.

Standardized education begs for the wreckage that largely-unaccountable Pearson has proven it will surely bring via its expensive and bumbling assessment efforts.

A “testing moratorium” was never enough. Neither is teacher permission to talk about Pearson’s inevitable testing errors.

Time for high-profile heads to come out of the sand.

Kill CCSS.



  1. Hannah permalink

    Of course Bill didn’t do his homework… he didn’t graduate from college.

  2. Andrea Lancer permalink

    And still no one has VOTED for this national assessment which will drive a national curriculum. Time to bring in the Congress.

  3. Is Pearson now a company our government will consider “too big to fail?”

  4. “Scale is good for free market competition.”

    Now that’s funny.

    Scale is good for a) very wealthy players who can outspend competitors and b) entrenched monopolists.

    Scale is good for the Walmarts and the Microsofts.

  5. Peter permalink

    What he meant to say is “Scale is good for winning free market competition if you’re the 800 pound gorilla.”

    From Rockefeller through Gates, corporate champions love free-market competition right up until the point they win a stranglehold on it. They love free market competition, but they bend all tehir efforts toward wiping it out.

  6. “CCSS” = Crony Capitalist State Standards

  7. “Scale” is only good for monopolists. As Adam Smith explained, smallness is what makes a free market work.

  8. I just can’t help but think of Gates and Windows when he says
    “scale is good for free market competition.”.
    In a true free market, neither Pearson nor Windows would survive.
    Inferior products that survive only because it’s not a free market.

  9. Thank you again for always following the monopoly trail no matter where it leads. And yes, the high-profile heads need to emerge from wherever they’ve been inserted because the May 2 announcement says it all, yet again. I still can’t get past the plane tickets to London.

  10. Advice from Bill Gates on Free-Market Competition. . . the biggest and most successful monopolist in the history of the world. Wow.

  11. Alan permalink

    Here’s a great line from the Boston Globe linked above, RE: Pearson’s secrecy;

    “No pharmaceutical company is allowed to conduct medical tests in secret or deny legitimate investigators access. The FDA and independent investigators are always involved. Indeed, even toasters have more oversight than high stakes educational tests.”

  12. I rarely ever comment on blogs. But this seriously makes my blood boil. How many more blows can public education take? I call shenanigans on this deal!

  13. hansi2014 permalink

    This contract was signed by a “group of states”. Could you explain this, please?

    Sent from my iPad


    • Hansi, reading between the lines, I believe that some of the PARCC consortium state superintendents, or state board presidents, or governors “signed” for Pearson to run PARCC.

      • hansi2014 permalink

        This is too vague for me.

      • Laura H. Chapman permalink

        I think this accurate, from my unpublished paper of this fiasco, early 2011.
        Florida is serving as PARCC’s fiscal agent with a four-year federal grant of $185 million for test development. Achieve will be receiving about $16 million for managing the four-year project.This was announced in a press release from Achieve dated September 2, 2010. By December 2010 PARCC had estimated that the combined cost of the two tests (ELA and math) will be about $32.68 per student.
        The CCSS initiative has been contrived to maintain the pretense of not being a giant step toward a nationalized system of standards, assessments, and curriculum-based instruction. That pretense will be difficult to maintain given evidence that the two federally funded testing consortia are seeking “comparability” in their tests and cut scores and both received funds to develop curriculum materials sufficient to produce their tests. As far as I know these curriculum materials have not published and funding them was a clear violation of federal law (to say nothing about a bunch of other issues.)
        In any case, PARCC will “coordinate with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium on… artificial intelligence scoring, setting achievement levels, and anchoring high school assessments in the knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for postsecondary education and careers” (PARCC, 2010, December, p. 3).
        Similarly, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC/SMARTER) asserts: “SBAC and PARCC are strongly committed to ensuring comparability between their assess-ments…[including] collaborative standard setting that will facilitate valid comparisons of achievement levels (cut scores) in each consortium’s summative test…” (SMARTER, 2011, p.31). I have not yet learned who has the contract to administer the tests from the SBAC/Smarter consortium.
        This begns to look like one national test in terms of scoring, with two forms–one from PARCC and one from SBAC. The original proposals from each consortium were really over the to. PARCC had a total of nine assessment on its proposal, so many I made a spreadsheet to grasp how much instructional time might be left if all were administered under secure conditions. Be grateful, I suppose, that both groups are in deep trouble with on-time delivery of any tests, and that the field tests are noteworthy in highlighting the hardware and software deficits in many schools. My references are here:
        Achieve. (2010, September 2). State common core state standards partnership will create next generation common assessment system to prepare all students for college and ca-reers: Press release. Retrieved from
        SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. (2011, January 6). Supplemental funding budget narrative submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. p. 31. Retrieved from
        Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. (2010, December 23). Proposal for supplemental race to the top assessment award. Retrieved from

      • Laura, Florida gave up PARCC fiscal agent position. I believe Maryland took over. Now PARCC is a nonprofit.

  14. Mr. Gates surely knows intellectual property and the value of licensing. In a sense, courts

    made Microsoft.

  15. This is truly outrageous but as you suggest, Mercedes, not at all surprising. Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

    I do have a technical question, however. Inasmuch as each of the PARCC participating states will be, in essence, hiring Pearson through this bogus solicitation, to perform this testing, is it possible that residents in each of those states could seek to enjoin PARCC from proceeding with a contract with Pearson on the basis that this solicitation violates each of those state’s public procurement laws, procedures, and practices? Having been on both sides of numerous public procurement solicitations and awards, this doesn’t seem to pass the usual procedural hurdles. Using PARCC to do the solicitation should not be allowed as a method of circumventing the normal public procurement requirements.

    Just a thought.

    • I think you’re right. Lots of room for lawsuits for bypassing state procedure.

      • Eric H permalink

        Sure, but in TN our governor Bill Haslam is on the board of Achieve (like Gov. Bredesen before him) and is therefore PARCC’s “project manager.” And since we do not follow our state constitution to elect our state supreme court judges, but instead have them hand-picked by the governor, (and they in turn select the Attorney General) there is little chance of a lawsuit being heard. To add insult to injury, our commissioner of education (also selected by the governor) is Kevin Huffman on the board of PARCC. All enjoying Bill Gates’ millions. It was already noticed that PARCC was “awarded” the testing contract without a bid, but instead of prosecution, we just get smoke and mirrors.

  16. Lisa Smith permalink

    So Pearson truly has a monopoly–both Smarter Balanced and PARCC! This needs to be screamed from the mountaintop as well as in the valley. This is so wrong.

  17. sprawler47 permalink

    I have a question. Does the phone hacking billionaire who should be in jail, Rupert Murdoch, own Pearson?

  18. mainemoxie permalink

    Gates: “For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”

    Yup. For Gates, the most exciting thing is the possibility of profit. We must not have schools with teachers teaching and creating and students learning. We must have customers, and they must buy products. Otherwise, how will we know, Is our children learning?

  19. Free markets are all about giving people free choices (monopolies restrict choice to just one). What is keeping schools and teachers from choosing something better than Pearson?

  20. POB permalink

    Seems all our hard earned tax money always ends up in Gates pocket. His worldview rules. Not a worldview that benefits any American. Profits for he and cronies, slavery bought by our own ignorance. Sad.

  21. nifty permalink

    what sickens me is that Bill Gates gave this company a bunch of money, pearson has also obtained 80 million dollars of tax payers dollars, the CEO and all the uppers of the company gets huge pay raises, huge bonuses and then and then they take all the jobs for the United States Citizens and tax payers who they choose to take money from for enrichment, outsourced over 500 jobs in the past year to foriegn countries, the company gets tax breaks for being a foreign owned company but the employees don’t get that tax break do they? So how can anyone rant and rave and boast about a company who is slithering and taking millions and then taking the jobs away from the people this company is more about how to enrich themselves up the ladder than it is about the testing and scoring of the students let alone their own employees

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