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The Pearson Paradox

March 1, 2013

For several months I have been trying to articulate the ambivalence I feel about Pearson and Bill Gates, and after reading Diane Ravitch’s post on Pearson’s profits today it hit me: I’m calling it “The Pearson Paradox”. The Pearson Paradox is when a corporation or corporate leader uses technology, which changes the way we process information and gives teachers a powerful resource to individualize instruction, to reinforce the Factory School model. My comment on the post describes this phenomenon:

The Pearson Paradox: I ascribe to the theory that technology is transforming the way we learn and think the same way that the printing press did. Holding that belief, I commend Pearson for investing in curriculum materials and instructional approaches that are different from traditional print materials that teachers stand-and-deliver. I also ascribe to the theory that standardized testing is narrowing the curriculum and reinforcing the outmoded factory model of learning. Holding that belief, I am appalled that Pearson is pandering to the “reformers” by designing tests that reinforce the old-school drill-and-kill methods of teaching.

Bill Gates’ behavior fits into the Pearson Paradox. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I don’t believe Bill Gates is malevolent or opposed to changing the way schools operate. But his insistence that standardized tests– and particularly VAM– serve as the primary metric for teacher performance is a giant step backwards in terms of the use of technology. Using tests as the barometer of performance results in teaching-to-the-test which, in turn, narrows the gauge of instruction and reinforces the outdated factory model of grouping and assessing students based on their age. It astounds me that Bill Gates can’t see that we could do so much more with technology… and that 30 years of a testing regimen has gotten us nowhere.

As (I think) I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, the reason we haven’t abandoned the Factory model for schooling is that those who succeeded and thrived in this model are now in charge of classrooms, in charge of schools, CEOs of computer companies, and members of school boards. They are the last people who would want to change the “meritocratic” system that identified them as leaders… and some of them are among the “reformers” who scoff at “progressive” ideas like differentiation and mastery learning… ideas that could be greatly enhanced by the thoughtful use of technology and the abandonment of the testing regimen.

So for now, I’ve named the ambivalence “the Pearson Paradox”… I’ll continue to look for examples…

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