An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would be the taxpayer.
If all else fails, the kid could always drop out and try to get a diploma via the good old G.E.D. The General Educational Development test program used to be operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education, but last year the Council and Pearson announced that they were going into a partnership to redevelop the G.E.D. — a nationally used near-monopoly — as a profit-making enterprise.
I'm very interested in this conversation. I'll say upfront that although I find it disagreeable to point at problems without offering possible solutions, this one's got me baffled.
There are not-for-profits that publish curriculum and assessment materials. From what I've seen, many operate just as corporations do, but perhaps more cheerfully, said operations being subsidized by what I imagine are tax breaks that lend some comfort to the proceedings.
Twice I've been recruited by not-for-profit agencies that publish test materials. Nothing seemed any different than any corporation. During the come-work-with-us talk, the VP assured me that just because their agency was a not-for-profit, this did not mean they didn't make a profit. He told me they liked to think of themselves as a meritocracy, and then he wrote a salary figure on a piece of paper and slipped it across the table.
From what I've seen of public education--and I've spent a tremendous time in classrooms at every grade, in review meetings with teachers, administrators, and other education professionals, and in state DOE conference rooms--I can't say that the public sector manages anything better than businesses or not-for-profits do.
(The elephantine factor is one problem. The larger a system is, the more difficult its management.)
In the immortal words of Tolstoy, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."*
Every time I've emerged from a classroom or a conference room (or even a presentation at an industry conference) feeling optimistic, it's been because of one person. A person who cares and whose work and words show that she cares. (I use "she" out of habit, not to be exclusionary.) There are brilliant and dedicated teachers in our schools. There are brilliant and dedicated leaders in education. (Some of these work with the corporations, by the way--there are certain names that always reassure me even before I read the recommendations based on their research.) There are people working in the corporations who are deeply and sincerely dedicated to serving students in their work.
There are many who aren't.
My feeling is that whatever your work, if you're just in it for the paycheck, you're doing yourself, your employer, and the end-user a tremendous disservice. We humans need to find and serve a higher meaning.
It shows when we don't. It shows, whether we work behind the counter at Starbucks or with
a bunch of tiny little savages kindergarteners in an elementary school, or in a partitioned cubicle in a big corporation.
* I hope you understand I don't mean Gail Collins when I say this. She is calling our attention to a matter worthy of discussion.