Pearson, AIR, Common Core and Opt-Out Collide in New Mexico

After hundreds of New Mexico high school kids walked out of common core inspired, state-mandated tests last week in protest, a perfect storm of education policy manifested in a state district courtroom. Scathing Purple Musings referred to this same Associated Press story from Russell Contreras earlier this week here. From an update in the Albuquerque Journal:

SANTA FE — In a case that could affect school testing in other states, lawyers submitted arguments Tuesday in a legal challenge to New Mexico’s contract with a testing company that may halt a much-debated assessment exam in that state.

Santa Fe District Judge Sarah Singleton heard arguments in a case that could overturn a contract awarded to London-based Pearson PLC.

Last year, Pearson was awarded a contact given out by states belonging to a consortium for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, or PARCC.

Thomas McGovern, a lawyer for the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, said New Mexico and the consortium unfairly helped shape bidding requirements crafted especially for Pearson. For example, he said the call for bidding said contractors had to use Pearson’s software and suggested that the winning bid would get to test nearly six million students in New Mexico and other states.

New Mexico has a total population of about two million.

The process “made Pearson a shoo-in” and prevented competitive bids, McGovern said. “That’s a conflict of interest.”

But attorneys for New Mexico say the process was fair and the American Institutes for Research did not submit a bid.

Benjamin Feuchter, an attorney for the state, said the state’s Public Education Department used the six million student number “to give a degree of the scope” the winning bidder might have be responsible for if they also won bids from other states in the PARCC consortium. “This is an attack on PED’s discretion,” Feuchter said.

Singleton told both sides to submit written final arguments by April 10. She said she would issue a ruling at a later date.

The legal challenge in New Mexico comes after a Missouri court recently ruled that the state’s membership in a group that creates the curriculum’s tests was unlawful. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in September that called the consortium an “illegal interstate compact not authorized by the U.S. Congress.”

In Mississippi, the Board of Education adopted the PARCC tests on a one-year emergency contract after a state contract review board ruled that the multistate PARCC consortium chose Pearson without the competitive process required under Mississippi state law. The state is trying to award a new testing contract, although Mississippi officials say Pearson could still be chosen.

Mississippi also recently withdrew from the PARCC consortium amid anti-Common Core sentiments.

Last week, hundreds of high school students across New Mexico walked out of schools to protest the PARCC.

Justifiably cynical Floridians know that New Mexico’s education boss, Hanna Skandera, is a Jeb Bush protégé and on of the Bush Foundation’s Chiefs for Change. For a decade Bush and Pearson fit like a glove. But the common core juggernaut changed all that. There was too much money to be made, and corporations are playing hard ball with each other. Its why you see AIR going after it’s top competitor in court. They smell blood.

So how much money? CNBC’s Lawrence Delevingne reports:

Those groups in turn shelled out the money to vendors to develop Common Core testing and related materials for their members. The most money went to Apollo Global Management-owned McGraw-Hill ($72.5 million from Smarter Balanced), U.K.-based Pearson ($63 million from PARCC) and nonprofit Educational Testing Services ($42 million combined from both groups), according to numbers compiled by Education Week.

The Apollo Global Management owned McGraw-Hill/Smarter Balanced relationship uses tests generated by AIR.

What will play out in that New Mexico courtroom is all about money and power for the powerful and well-connected. Kids. parents, teachers, schools and even state departments of education are in a no-mans land between two corporate behemoths. Whether it be online test hacks which destroy tests, family anguish over the dinner table or schools being closed, it’s just collateral damage. All that self-righteous stuff about holding teachers accountable and this being about kids is rot of the worst kind. The powerful and well-connected are exploiting children to enrich and empower themselves.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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