For those of you who don’t remember, Pearson is the company that brought us the Pineapple Question on the state ELA test a few years ago. (They bought the rights to a short story by Daniel Pinkwater and rewrote it in a convoluted way.) Now the New York State Attorney General is investigating whether Pearson is using their non-profit branch to influence state officials by paying for expensive trips that may include lobbying for their for-profit arm.
By now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up. I mean, this is obviously important to me as a parent–I don’t want my children’s education corrupted from dirty dealings by a testing company. Other parents have the right to be informed as well. And really, I’m feeling pretty proud of my state for taking on Pearson. I hope they suck them dry (fat chance, but it’s a nice dream). While those are my top reasons for my interest in the subject, I do have another selfish motivation.
I don’t like to go into details about my projects very often. I find that it stifles some of my creativity and creates undue pressure on me to perform in a way I can’t always manage. But I’m going to mention it because it’s related to the article I linked above.
Last year, I started writing a story. It was going to be just for fun, something to work on whenever I felt like I was in a blogging rut. I wanted to experiment with some things I’d never written before. I happen to like updated fairy tales that don’t come off as fairy tales, so I chose the tale of the pied piper. I had in mind to give it a happy ending, because I’m cheesy like that. Anyway, I worked on it for a bit and then decided to set it aside because I’m not great with long-term projects. I figured if I really wanted to, I could pick it up again for NaNoWriMo, since I hadn’t written that much and I knew I could write another 50,000 words (and therefore not be cheating, since I had some written already).
What does this have to do with anything? The story is about underhanded dealings in public education and misuse of disciplinary action against “failing” schools.
I ended up going back to it sooner than I’d intended. I finished enough to start sending the story to beta readers so I could get some feedback on where to head with it. In one chapter, a character tells another that the underhanded dealings are not a good way to live. One of the beta readers complained in her comments that I had made it sound like a mob movie and that while “corporate takeover of a school is not ideal,” it made her roll her eyes.
Except that’s what happens.
For-profit companies (for example, Pearson) can take failing schools, create charters, and make a profit. Investors–usually wealthy donors such as the Gates Foundation–can put money into it and receive not only a tax write-off but a financial gain, sometimes as much as double what they put in. I swear I could not make this stuff up.
The worst part is that the charter schools are not better than the public schools they replaced; they’re just not as heavily regulated. Charter school teachers don’t even need to be certified because the rules applied to state-funded schools don’t apply. The idea that if schools operated on a for-profit basis they would improve due to “competition” is ridiculous. Additionally, schools can lose funding and students can suffer when wealthy investors back out suddenly (this has happened with the Gates Foundation).
Does this have the potential for people to try to game the system in order to profit from education? Absolutely.
Go ahead, beta reader, and roll your eyes. Corporate takeover isn’t “ideal”? I hope you’re unlucky enough one day to be forced to send your child to a sub-par charter school run by a for-profit Educational Management Organization.
I have no idea whether I’ll ever publish this story. I’ll let you know if I do. For now, I’m content to watch the Pearson drama unfold and pray desperately that someone takes that company down several notches. We don’t need education reform; we need a complete overhaul.