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Stephanie Simon reports in Politico.com on a major investigation of Pearson and its extraordinary ability to profit from its activities, whether or not they are successful.
A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards. And in the higher ed realm, the contracts give Pearson extensive access to personal student data, with few constraints on how it is used.
POLITICO examined hundreds of pages of contracts, business plans and email exchanges, as well as tax filings, lobbying reports and marketing materials, in the first comprehensive look at Pearson’s business practices in the United States.
The investigation found that public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, for instance, declined to seek competitive bids for a new student data system on the grounds that it would be “in the best interest of the public” to simply hire Pearson, which had done similar work for the state in the past. The data system was such a disaster, the department had to pay Pearson millions extra to fix it.
Administrators at the University of Florida also skipped competitive bids on a huge project to build an online college from scratch. They were in a hurry. And they knew Pearson’s team from a previous collaboration. That project hadn’t been terribly successful, but no matter: UF dug up the old contract and rewrote it to give Pearson the new job — a job projected to be worth $186 million over the next decade.
And two public colleges in Texas not only gave Pearson a no-bid contract to build online classes, they agreed to pay the company to support 40,000 enrollments, no matter how many students actually signed up.
Pearson has aggressive lobbyists, top-notch marketing and a highly skilled sales team. Until the New York attorney general cracked down in late 2013, Pearson’s charitable foundation made a practice of treating school officials from across the nation to trips abroad, to conferences where the only education company represented was Pearson.
The story of Pearson’s rise is very much a story about America’s obsession with education reform over the past few decades.
Ever since a federal commission published “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 — warning that public education was being eroded by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people” — American schools have been enveloped in a sense of crisis. Politicians have raced to tout one fix after the next: new tests, new standards, new classroom technology, new partnerships with the private sector.
K-12 superintendents and college administrators alike struggle to boost enrollment, raise graduation rates, improve academic outcomes — and to do it all while cutting costs.
In this atmosphere of crisis, Pearson promises solutions. It sells the latest and greatest, and it’s no fly-by-night startup; it calls itself the world’s leading learning company. Public officials have seized it as a lifeline.
“Pearson has been the most creative and the most aggressive at [taking over] all those things we used to take as part of the public sector’s responsibility,” said Michael Apple, a professor of education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
And that is only a sampling of the contents of this explosive report. Read it to find out where your taxpayer dollars are going.
As an added bonus, Simon also wrote about how Pearson used its foundation to bolster its profits.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html#ixzz3RLxhh6ub