This is a debate that really resonated with me. Educational funding and finance has got to be one of the most contentious topics out there right now, and one that I feel strongly about. Not because of the so-called sanctity or purity of the classroom. Many people seem to think that the classroom is somehow a sacred place where corporate interests are not allowed, but to think that is simply unrealistic. The problem that I have with corporate interests in education is the fundamental disagreement between the goals of education, and the goals of corporations.
The goals of education are student learning and success, through a variety of means and factors. The goals of a corporation are, by definition, profit. You can have altruistic motives all you want, but companies are, by nature, for profit. Pearson’s income in 2015 was 4.4 billion GBP, which means that that money has largely come out of taxpayer pockets, worldwide. Pearson is a huge business, which is, as Jon Oliver and Glenn Beck both pointed out, is largely responsible for not only the testing, but also the bulk of educational materials sold in schools. Textbooks, curricula, and tests.
One of the fundamental principles of economics is incentivization. People, and organizations, tend to move in ways which are consistent with the incentives that are put before them. So what, then, is Pearson’s incentive?
Think of it this way: Education is, by current measures, struggling, failing or in crisis in both the United States and Canada. Pearson is able to roll in on an agenda of educational reform. We need new textbooks! New reporting systems! New curricula! New testing! New models of teaching! New teaching certifications! Each of these Pearson is more than able to provide, for a price. How, then, will we know if we were successful? Simple! Pearson will quite eagerly provide standardized testing, for a price. Once we take these Pearson tests, we find out that we are continuing to struggle. We haven’t improved. So what’s to be done to remedy this? Pearson simply has to roll out now materials, new curricula, new certifications. Then we’ll test again, and find out that we’re still struggling, and the cycle begins anew.
Now, I know this seems to have a bit of a conspiratorial bent, and it may represent a bit of an exaggeration or overstatement, but the reality is that Pearson and other companies stand to benefit the most from a failing system. If students ace their standardized tests, the odds of divisions buying new materials would, logically, go down, since there is no incentive to them to buy new materials. The status quo benefits Pearson more than any other possible outcome.
Is this to say that all companies involved in education are the devil? No, not by any stretch. There are most definitely many companies who have altruistic motives, but at the end of the day, the reason why schools are under the purview of the government is because they are simply bad business. They are expensive, and their output is not marketable. They require a motivation of learning, not profit, in order to thrive. The more that money becomes involved in schools, the more tainted they become. This is not to suggest that there is some inherent nobility to schools, but it is to suggest that when a company is created for profit, it is going to find ways to profit, and any profit that comes to the companies that are doing business in schools comes with a cost to the students.
Is this me being cynical? Probably. But I am a firm believer that our students and schools should be fiercely protected from corporate interests. The goals of schools and businesses run counter to one another. Poor education funding, however, makes for strange bedfellows. The solution does not lie in more corporate money, though. Every deal with the devil has its price, after all. Unless you watch Rick and Morty. The solution comes from more funding to our schools.