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  • Goal to Be Greater: Encouragement and Support to Raise Civic-Minded Kids

    Kids recycling

    Jamie Farnsworth keeps her eyes open for lost tourists on the subway as she commutes to work in Manhattan.

    “My final stop is the place where people are getting on the train to go downtown to South Ferry, where they get the Statue of Liberty ferry,” Jamie says. “The entrance is a bit confusing and difficult to find.”

    Earlier this month, she came upon a couple with small kids looking confused.

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  • Two Generations of IT Professionals Talk Employability and Proving Your Skills

    by LearnEd

    Man and woman shaking hands

    A few weeks ago, we wrote a story about the 2016 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship, a global competition that tests students’ skills in Microsoft Office Word, Excel® and PowerPoint®. This year's World Championship was held in Orlando in early August.


    After she brought her son’s resume to a Montana bank so he could be considered for an internship, Tina O'Donnell recalls, "The HR rep told me, ‘I wish everybody had a resume like this.’”

    Her son, Nick, stands out among intern candidates. He is the current U.S. Champion in Microsoft Word 2013, a title he secured in the Pearson VUE Certiport Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship in Orlando earlier this month.

    He has just graduated from high school.

    “We never expected Nick to be named the best in the United States,” she says. “But I do think he’s a rock star.”

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    Nick O'Donnell and his mom at the 2016 Microsoft Office World Championship in Orlando, Florida.

    Making A Resume Stand Out

    Nick’s certifications in the 2010 and 2013 Microsoft Office programs, as well as a long list of other extracurricular activities, help him prove his skills to potential employers.

    “I think you need to have computer skills to be employable because that’s where the job market is going,” says Nick.

    “You also have to adapt because technology is constantly changing.”

    Nick was offered, and took, the internship at the bank, working on their document management system.

    At the age of 18, he also became the resident expert in Microsoft Office.

    “I was really impressed at how he was able to interact with adults more than twice his age. When we had a very technical discussion, something moms and sons don’t usually have, I knew he had changed,” says Tina, who is also employed in IT at a bank.

    “When hiring, I look for those soft skills like teamwork and leadership.”

    After graduating, Nick was hired to work in IT for the Anderson School District in Montana. He is on-site, helping educators with the technology in their classrooms.

    “The Microsoft certifications helped me get the job,” says Nick.

    His experience helping his old high school out also gave him a boost—as well as his passion. “I’m really excited to learn new software.”

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    Nick O'Donnell with Pearson leaders.

    Looking Forward to a Bright Future

    He’s also studying computer science and business at Montana State University. What does he want as a career?

    “CEO of Microsoft,” says Tina.

    Her son is a bit more modest: “I’d like to be an IT manager."

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  • Soccer, Math, and Family Time All Rolled Up Together in School

    by LearnEd

    Shot of a soccer team having a team talk

    An online high school helps a competitive soccer player

    excel on the field and in the classroom.


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    A Soccer Prospect

    Chris Stowell's wingspan is more than six feet wide.

    He's six feet, three inches tall. He's also quick and has great hands.

    Put a bright jersey on him, and he becomes one of the top soccer goalkeepers in the pacific northwest—already competing in some of the country's most competitive tournaments.

    "Eventually, I want to go to the next level," Chris says. Which means making his way up the ranks to a team like Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers.


    "It finally gave me the flexibility to go to my tournaments AND do my school work either beforehand or afterwards," Chris says. "It was so easy to catch up."


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    A New Flexibility

    Chris' first two years in high school were at a local public school in Eugene, Oregon.

    "But I missed so much of school to go to all these soccer tournaments," he says. "I had to make up a lot of work and schedule a lot of tests with all my teachers."

    That changed once he started attending Oregon Connections Academy for his junior and senior year. It's a virtual charter school affiliated with the Santiam Canyon School District in Mill City, Oregon, that is available statewide to students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

    "It finally gave me the flexibility to go to my tournaments AND do my school work either beforehand or afterwards," Chris says. "It was so easy to catch up."

    'A Much Better Path'blue quote box2

    "I wasn't excited about Oregon Connections Academy at first," Chris says.

    "I really liked the social aspects of the public high school," he says. "I figured going to a virtual charter school would make me more socially isolated."

    But it didn't turn out that way.

    "I still stay in touch with my friends," Chris says. "And this kind of high school, for me, was the much better path."

    Slower Pace When Needed, Faster Pace When Wanted

    In addition to the flexibility Chris' new school allowed him and his athletic pursuits, Oregon Connections Academy made it possible for him to go through his studies at his own pace.

    "I really felt dragged down in math class in my old school," Chris says. "The slow pace was frustrating."

    "Other classes, I actually needed a slower pace," he says.

    "The curriculum was already laid out," Chris says. "I could look online and see exactly what I needed to do for each week and each month, charging through some subjects and going slower through others."

    Growing Up On the Field and Off

    Chris has matured as a soccer player over the years.

    "As a goalkeeper, you have to be a leader on the field," he says. "You tell people what to do, give them encouragement, hold them accountable."

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    Oregon Connections Academy brought out similar traits on the academic side of his life.

    "I really had to take charge of my education," Chris says. "No one was pushing me along or telling me what to do. I had to take charge of the completion of my studies."


    "I really had to take charge of my education," Chris says. "No one was pushing me along or telling me what to do. I had to take charge of the completion of my studies."


    Chris' mom, Julie, saw the same thing happening.

    "He matured a great deal," Julie says. "He got used to calling his teachers with questions and started to feel more comfortable contacting them to work out the balance between school and soccer."

    "It was really difficult for him at first," she says. "But I think the experience gives him a leg up in confidence compared to a similar experience in a traditional brick and mortar school."

    Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 4.11.27 PMCollege and the Road Ahead

    In the fall, Chris will go to college—majoring in math at Corban University in Salem, Oregon.

    His new soccer coach is also involved as a coach in the Portland Timbers organization.

    But one step at a time.

    Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 10.53.45 AM

    Chris is "a little bit nervous" about going off to school.

    "I'll be living on my own for the first time," he says. "I'm nervous about doing my own laundry," he jokes.

    "We'll visit often," Julie says. "He'll only be an hour away."

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  • Volunteers Knocking on Doors to Set Up Tucson Students for Success

    by LearnEd

    Photo of volunteers

    This is the latest in a series of stories about how the GradNation State Activation initiative is working to improve graduation rates.


     

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    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    Setting Yourself Up for Success

    Before Ray Smith was a five-star recruit and a forward for the University of Arizona men's basketball team, he dropped out of high school.

    Now, he's committed to helping other young people avoid the same situation.

    "I try to tell these kids that if I can do it and be where I'm at today, they can do it too," he says. "School really isn't that hard; you just have to set yourself up for success."

    Reaching At-Risk Students, One Knock at a Time

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    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    Ray recently joined the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, and 130 other community members for the Steps to Success program. It sends volunteers into local neighborhoods knocking on doors of students who had dropped out or were at risk of not returning for the new school year.

    The program is based on the idea that caring adults who reach out with kindness, honesty—and a little extra persuasion—can make a difference in a young student's life.

    This year, volunteers have visited nearly 200 homes and connected with 118 young people who had already given up on school.

    Steps to Success is run cooperatively by the Tucson Unified School District and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. These same leaders are also members of the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, an initiative of WestEd.

    The Roundtable is one of three groups receiving funding from Pearson and America's Promise Alliance through the GradNation State Activation initiative.

    'They Just Need Help'

    As Ray Smith and his teammate Dusan Ristic recently knocked on doors, elated young people fumbled for their cameras and asked them to pose for photos.

    It was exactly the kind of strong connection with young people the program hopes to achieve.

    "It's just a matter of talking with these kids about where they are and how they've struggled," says Dr. H.T. Sánchez, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District. "To see these kids and hear their story—and know that the parents only want what's best for the kids."

    "They just need help," he says.

    meeting-student-1.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    meeting student 5.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    Beating the Odds of a Tough Personal Story

    H.T.'s father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

    Before becoming TUSD's superintendent, he was an 8th grade English teacher. He went on to serve as principal to elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

    H.T. uses his own story to tell students he meets that his path through education wasn't easy either.

    "I know what it's like to have the odds stacked against you," he says. "I also know what it's like with hard work and people that fight for you to succeed."

    "I was talking with one parent and told her how I worked and I went to school," he says. "It's tough, but on the other side, you can be very successful."

    The Learning Struggles of Immigrants

    About 64 percent of Tucson's student population during the 2015-2016 school year was Hispanic.

    H.T. knows that understanding their needs is imperative to creating support programs that work.

    He recalls struggling to learn English when he first came to this country—and being placed in a special program in school.

    "Just because a student speaks with an accent or has difficulty with the language today, doesn't mean cognitively they're slow or that they're impaired or they can't get it," H.T. says. "They're smart, they're very capable, and it's a matter of how do we close the gap of what we know is in their mind and in their heart and what they want to say, but that they just don't have the language to express," he says.

    meeting student 4.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    It Takes a Village

    Dropout prevention specialist John Kramkowski says building relationships with students in their homes is what sets apart the Steps to Success program.

    It builds connections.

    "Having done home visits, dropout prevention, and student services for years, a lot of people in our department know the power of a home visit," John says.

    "So the idea was to make this program a community-wide effort," he says, "knowing the impact of having an athlete, the mayor, law enforcement, politicians, or powerful members of our community would make this kind of visit even more valuable for families."

    "It truly does take a village," he says.

    A Passion for At-Risk Kids

    Most often, young people leave school because they need to work for their family, they lose interest, or they're failing and feel like recovery is impossible.

    meeting student 6.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    And in most cases—parents are eager for their kids to go back.

    "We are advocates for the students, but the family as well," says TUSD dropout prevention specialist Claudia Valenzuela.

    So the Steps to Success program plans follow-up visits with every student reached to ensure they are true to their intentions and re-enroll in school.

    It's something for which the program participants are passionate.

    Claudia says: "Going to work every morning is something I really enjoy doing."


    The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America's Promise Alliance and Pearson, working to increase high school graduation rates to 90 percent. The effort is building the capacity to raise graduation rates through the innovative approaches and initiatives of three grantees: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Minnesota Alliance With Youth, and WestEd, supporting the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable.

     

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  • A parent's legacy - a journey in education

    by Elizabeth Goueti

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    Haiti should be a paradise on Earth. Tropical air breathes down from its mountains, rustling the chorus of coconut palms into a gentle surrender of their harvest. Its bountiful coastline offers up a gallery of fish, their chargrilled scent meandering through the placid streets. Voices waft in friendly rhythms.

    But you don’t need to explore too far to see that this is far from a paradise.

    Daily life here can feel like a momentary interruption in an unabating journey towards devastation. The 2010 earthquake brought Haiti to its feet and to the conscience of the world, but it had been under the grip of destruction for years before. Politics here can, and often does, spill into bloodshed, staining that which it is supposed to serve. Remnants of communities long beyond breaking point cling to existence - smells of putrid, fermented garbage line the outer banks of walkways and streets. In a country that can’t even keep itself clean, what hope does education have?

    This is the Haiti that my father remembers. He came from Borgne - aptly pronounced by the locals as “Oh Boy” - a small, indistinguishable town on the north coast. Back then there were no public schools, so if you wanted an education, you had to pay for it. Thus schooling was reduced to the privileged pursuit of the wealthy and the well-connected. If you were neither, you went nowhere.

    My grandfather, Rollin, got himself ‘connected’, and in doing so got his son - my father - into a school. It meant a four hour trip over deadly mountain terrain; it meant sending their little boy away to live in the big city of strangers; it meant scraping together every last penny they ever had. When school fees were late, my father would be thrown to the streets, left to wander around in the hope that the money would soon be on its way. It always arrived, and he was allowed back in, in the end.

    But ask my father what he remembers, and you’ll hear nothing of the hardship and the struggle. Instead, he’ll speak of luck, of being the only one of his friends that got the chance of school. He’ll speak of opportunity, of progress, of the start point to the rest of his life.

    My father completed high school at the very top of his class, but graduated into the merciless dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. His education had taught him how to read, and that had given him the freedom to think. But Duvalier’s Haiti was not a place for free-thinkers. So in October 1980, my father, along with 132 other Haitian men and women, boarded a boat, heading somewhere in the loose direction of America. They were running away, of course, but my father never described it as an escape. Survival, he would always tell me, should never simply be the absence of fear, but the presence of hope. His hope, as he lay upon that rickety boat, was to live the life of the educated man he had become.

    The boat trudged along for eight days, small and overloaded, alone amongst the bullying seas. The exiles survived on slim rations of uncooked rice and sips of water. Finally, Cuba; and for some, far enough, as they scuttled from the shore into the secrecy of a new life. But my father had bigger dreams; 14 days later, they landed in Florida.

    A year later, my mother made the same journey. Hers was a quest of a different kind; a single minded mission to secure for her 18-month son the education that she had been denied. She was only 19. She left alone - her baby was to follow weeks later. It took them 17 years of battling the system before they were reunited. The education she had risked her life to get him, gone. But she had succeeded. My sister and I are her proof of that. I am a lawyer, and Patricia will soon graduate with her Master of Arts.

    When we were children, my father would take my sister and I to the public library every Saturday.  Come rain or shine, he made sure we got a chance to get to read as many books as possible.  And my mother would often come home burdened with secondhand books she’d bought from the local thrift store or garage sales. To this day, I have kept them all, an enduring reminder of the world that opens up when you learn to read. Perhaps it is with our father’s words ringing in our ears - of the power of education to change the world - that we have both found ourselves working for Pearson.

    My parents’ stories seem so far removed from the life I’ve enjoyed as a first-generation American, that to describe myself as a child of refugees feels odd. Yet that is exactly what I am. I am the children of those risking their lives, right at this moment, attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe. I am the children of Syria, torn from their homes and their classrooms by war. And I am the proof, that education is both the means and the motivation that can make the difference.

    ***

    Learn more about how we’re trying to help the children displaced by the Syrian conflict.

    Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter - @elizabethgoueti

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  • Reading - a rite of passage

    by Emma Buckle

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    My son is 18 months old. Soon he’ll be at that age when you stop counting the number of words he can say. He’s up to seven. The sixth one was “Gruffalo”. His eighth word will probably be “Siri”. I’m lucky I can make a joke of it.

    For nearly 800 million adults around the world, reading can only ever be something done to them. The internet came and put education at the fingertips of more people than ever before. New ideas and data insights are improving school standards all the time. Yet illiteracy rates are merely being chipped away at, little bit by little bit.

    By 2020, 90% of the world’s over six-year olds are likely to own a mobile phone. Just think about that - there’ll be more people who can work a phone than can read or write. If this was health or homelessness or famine, we'd be talking about a humanitarian crisis. Yet illiteracy will likely be a major contributor to all three. Victims of a poor or entirely absent education, their illiteracy is the price they now pay. It is a heap of waste that seeps unnoticed by others into even the most basic parts of a day - a street sign, a menu, a tweet becomes the thing of subatomic quantum physics. Books are too lofty an ambition, so they remain untouched - just having enough words to see them through a day will do for now.

    A colleague of mine recently recalled when her boy’s reading ability sparked into life. He was five - a fairly typical age to be able to read, so you’d think. She remembers feeling a sense of revelation, even bewilderment, that this little creature who could barely do anything for himself not so long ago was now able to sit alone, with a book, and read.

    And she then realised how odd - how wrong - it was to feel like this. To be amazed and in awe of something that we should all take for granted; something that should be a simple rite of passage of a human’s progress through life. We’re born, we crawl, we walk, then talk, then read - isn’t that how it should go for everyone?

    I’ve read to my son ever since he was just a few weeks old. For me it is an emotional exercise, as much as an educational one. It’s about us sharing a moment of intimacy, with no interruptions - no phones, TV or Siri to get in the way. But the science behind doing so makes it equally rewarding. Children acquire between 500 and 1,100 words by the age of three. Regularly talking, singing and reading to our little ones during those years can increase their vocabulary by 75%.

    My son is lucky. Our shelves at home are stacked with books, and the school he'll go to will be too. But storybooks are shamefully the preserve of the better off. It is a fact that the poorer you are, the further away your closest book lies.

    Odds are, my son will be able to read. It’ll give him the opportunity to decide whether he’s a book lover. Whether, like his mum, he’ll be thrilled by the prospect of those opening pages, and eaten with the curiosity of finding out what happens next. Or perhaps he won’t like books - perhaps he’ll be into computers and want to spend all day coding. Or maybe he’ll be interested in the world around him - nature, politics, buildings. Whatever it is he ends up loving, he’ll be able to love it more because he’ll be able to read.

    It is never too late to learn how to read and write; but there is no substitute for learning to do that as a child.

    Today is the International Day of Families. Why not mark it by reading a book with your little boy, or girl, or niece, or nephew or grandchild and share the #joyofreading as a family. After all, there are still some things that Siri will never replace.

    You can connect with Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBucks

    ***

    At Pearson we believe literacy should be a right, not a privilege. Join us in #ProjectLiteracy and help be the difference.

     

     

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  • Mohamed's story

    by Dominic

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    Mohamed is a success story. At school he was known as a 'naughty kid', too interested in sport and not enough in studying. Today he works for one of the world's biggest football clubs. His dream job is down to his own talent, commitment, and hard work. His success reflects well on his teachers, his family and his friends. And it also reflects well on BTEC. Mohamed is one of many thousands of young people who, through BTEC qualifications, are taking a less traditional, but no less valuable, path through education and then  beyond.

    Here's his story. You can catch up with more stories just like Mohamed's on Twitter - #BTEC.

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  • The private sector and the public trust

    by Amar Kumar

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    Nothing divides education opinion quite as much as the role of private business. For some, they are the necessary partners of delivery, picking up where tax dollars and public provision aren’t enough. For others, there can be no place for profit in the education of children, an ideological stance where anyone seeking a commercial advantage is immediately distrusted. And the larger the company, the louder that distrust.

    Pearson makes more money than any other company in the education sector, so we receive our fair share of that mistrust. And it is fair - we should be made to work hard for people’s trust. We may make textbooks and digital content and administer tests and manage schools - but ultimately we are in the business of making people’s lives better. When you’re dealing in such a precious product as people, cynicism is not only understandable - it’s essential.

    I work for Pearson, but that does not mean I am immune from this cynicism. I’m also a former teacher, a taxpayer, and I care deeply about what kind of world I want us and future generations to live in. When parents and educators rise up and shout “Show us - show us how what you do is helping our children make progress”, I am shouting with them.

    When I was the principal of a school in India and parents asked why their child was falling behind, I wanted to know too. Now, having made my home in the U.S., I want to know why it comes a lowly 36th in global education standards, trailing behind the likes of Estonia, New Zealand and Vietnam. I want to know why far too many of our students are dropping out of high school or arriving unprepared in college or the workplace. I want to know, amongst all the great things that happen in our schools and classrooms, what doesn’t work and how we can make it better. And I don’t care where the answers come from - public money, private enterprise, a bit of both… I don’t care. All I care about is achieving better outcomes.

    The challenges to delivering better education are many and varied, and we need to increase the number of people helping to find the solutions, not close the gates. That’s why I believe there’s a clear role for private businesses, Pearson included, in increasing choice and competition in education. Learners and customers will rightly demand that this involvement comes with accountability and transparency - as do shareholders. What good is that shining new private school down the road if there’s no evidence it’ll be the right fit for my child? That whizzy new website; get past the sleek design and smooth user experience - will it actually improve my students’ grades? How are you ensuring your products outperform the competition? Different questions, but all part of the same inquisition.

    Our products may be traded in dollars, but they are held accountable by data. Collected, analysed, and made public. Without data, we all fall down, scrambling in the dark, banking on hunches, clinging to the “because we’ve always done it this way” mentality. With data, we all move forward - all of us. The teacher, more confident that her students will progress quicker in literacy and numeracy because she’s seen the evidence that the product she’s chosen has done that for others. The student, using tools that don’t just make him more literate and numerate, but also better at solving problems, being a team player, more able to think creatively… because that’s the sort of person the world says it needs. The parent… prouder and happier.

    There is no silver bullet that makes all this happen overnight, but efficacy - this total immersion in being led by the data - will help get us there quicker. It’ll make decisions easy. If the data is telling us a product isn’t doing what we intended it to do and we can’t improve it, we won’t sell it anymore. Irrespective of how profitable it might be, it will have no place in our portfolio. Period.

    Don’t believe me? Last year Pearson considered a multi-million dollar investment in a school chain in an emerging market. On the surface, it all looked great - months of due diligence and financial analysis said this was going to be a sound commercial investment. But when it went through our efficacy review, it fell short. In the past, that school chain may have become part of Pearson; but today, it is not, because we couldn’t be confident it would deliver for its students. That is what we mean about being accountable.

    Last month, we made some of our data available publicly, and we’ll continue to do so until we - you - have the evidence to cover our entire portfolio. We’ll have nowhere to hide. And, that’s exactly how we want it.

    We don’t expect our commitment to efficacy to win everyone over. There will always be people who are ideologically opposed to our business, regardless of the alternatives and whether they help people make progress or not. But for many others - who just want to see their child graduate, get that promotion, be prouder of their country - they’ll be able to judge whether we’re the ones who can help them or not. And if it’s not us, we’ll be glad that those that ‘did’ also made their data available so it was an informed choice.

    Ultimately, accountability is about more than assigning blame or defending yourself – it’s about making the right decision to get what you want. Education would do well to lose the public vs private tags, and just see us all for what we are - people in search of progress.

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