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  • On the borders of American education

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

    A student reading a book

    (Photo credit: Brad Doherty/AP Images for Pearson)

    “I am a human being in search of the American dream.” I was a bit taken aback after reading the first line in the essay handed to me by a student at Juarez Lincoln High School in La Joya, Texas – a school that sits less than 3 miles from the Mexican border. The new American Dream was what I planned to discuss in the commencement speech at Texas Southmost College the following day, before ever having met these students. But nowhere along this 4-day road trip through Texas did I feel the importance of this theme more acutely than when I met the young students at Juarez.

    Their stories all share a common thread: the drive to overcome challenges of poverty with a will to learn and as one young man very frankly put it, “be somebody.” The first student who spoke told me about leaving his parents behind at the age of 14 to come to the US. Another had ridden atop the “Death Train” from Honduras – a two-month-long journey, which, he wrote in his essay, all too many passengers did not survive. These students were among the most mature, humble and driven I have met anywhere in the world, and hearing their stories was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. As the teachers and parents thanked me for coming to their school, I felt a sense of inadequacy…that I had brought little to the table through my visit (although I know Pearson has been a long-term partner of the school), but had gained so much from the experience. I had seen firsthand what it really means to need an education. For many of these students, and students like them around the world, an education can literally be the difference between surviving and thriving. My conversation with these students reinforced for me the urgency and importance of the purpose that 40,000 Pearson colleagues share with our partners and customers around the world. The last line of that student’s essay reminded me that there is so much yet to be done to help people achieve their goals. He writes, “I am a human being in search of the American Dream of becoming a Spanish teacher.” As I left the school, I realized why these students had been happy to talk to me – they took comfort in hearing someone from outside their world tell them directly that through education, they can realize their own personal ambitions.

    I had the chance to address the graduates at Texas Southmost College the next day. I told them what they likely know better than anyone: education impacts not only the life of the student, but the lives of everyone close to them. In the photo above, little Makayla joined her father Mark on his big day, as he graduated with an associate’s degree in applied science. She was so excited, and understood that this was a happy time for her family. But what surely wasn’t clear to her at the age of 4 was that the moment would be a transformational one. His associate’s degree will mean an earnings difference in $400,000 over the course of Mark’s lifetime, and it will greatly increase Makayla’s chances of going to college and providing a comfortable future for her own children and generations to come.

    Education is a powerful driver not just of personal and family growth, but also of community growth and economic prosperity. Before visiting Texas, I spent two days in DC, during which time I drove three miles from the Capitol to visit an adult charter school in Ward 7 in southeast Washington DC, one of the most destitute parts of the city. Pearson has supported the Community College Prep Academy since its inception with digital learning and tutoring support to help get students ready for college and the workplace. The charter school’s founder, Connie Spinner (pictured below), described Ward 7 as an “underdeveloped nation within a city”, one of the “last bastions of great poverty” in the nation’s capitol, and an area where internet infrastructure is nonexistent. It takes an exceptional leader like Connie to overcome these challenges and see the impact that a school like this can have upon the community. The students ranged in age from 20-50 and older, but they were learning the very basics of literacy and numeracy. (In fact, the 40 year-old man I met with was only just learning whole numbers.) In just the few years since she opened CC Prep’s doors, Connie has seen hundreds of students leave, armed with the qualifications they need to take the next step in life, and ready to give back to their own community and push forward the positive cycle of education in Ward 7.

    CC Prep Visit

    These stories reinforce the desperate need for access to high quality education in our poorest communities. The students at CC Prep, Juarez Lincoln High School, and Texas Southmost College, rely every day on a combination of great teaching, inspirational leaders, and world-class tools and research to make progress in their lives. Our responsibility is to provide those world-class tools and research, and what matters to my colleagues and to me is that we’re doing right by the people who most need it.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • John Fallon joins Texas Southmost College grads on their special day

    by Gillian Seely

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    Our CEO John Fallon could probably have delivered a commencement speech at any number of colleges or universities. But in 2015, he proved to the education world that Pearson is serious about delivering the tools for education in the places where it matters most. This year, John Fallon joined over 300 hard-working and motivated Texas Southmost College graduates at their graduation, just a mile from the Mexican border. He shared words of wisdom, encouragement, and let TSC know how proud Pearson is of their accomplishments. Congratulations to the graduating class of Texas Southmost College! "Go Scorpions, sting 'em hard!" (Click on the video below to hear what John told this great group of graduates.)

  • 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

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

     

     

  • 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.

  • Who we are and what we stand for

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

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    Today, I had the opportunity to address Pearson shareholders in an open forum, as we do each year at our Annual General Meeting, and to remind people about what Pearson is, and what it is that we stand for.  Here is what I told them:

    I am very proud of our 40,000 colleagues all over world - who together put in a competitive performance right across Pearson. This performance is true of our Education business, the FT - with total circulation growing 10% year on year to a new high of 720,000 where digital now represents 70% of FT. And I’m also proud of Penguin Random House – the world’s first truly global digital book publishing company. Three years ago, we took a hard decision to merge Penguin with Random House as we thought it was the best way to support Penguin’s enduring commercial and creative success. Now two years on, we are seeing record performance and great success, as evidenced by our publishing, in at least one major market, each of last year’s Booker Prize short list. We are well placed to sustain our strong competitive performance this year and beyond.

    We announced today our first quarter trading update - where we met expectations with headline sales up 5%. More importantly, we are making record levels of investment in the next generation of new products and services. As we do so, we aim to put the idea of placing the learner first - we serve them and they are at heart of every single thing we do.  But before you hear any more from me, you should listen to one of those learners.  So, that’s Mohamed’s story.  His success is, of course, primarily due to his own talent, commitment and hard work.  It also reflects well on his teachers, family and friends. Mohamed’s video, as well as the case studies in our Annual Report, are all examples of our work to tackle the most important challenges in the world - equipping global citizens with 21st century skills needed to survive in the workplace and life.

    The greater our impact in improving access to good quality education and translating that into better outcomes for more people, the more quickly we can create a faster growing, more sustainable and profitable company. Access, inputs and outcomes are hallmarks of a successful company - efficacy is a hallmark of everything we do - becoming a stronger company, bigger, better and achieving better financial returns. We’re becoming a simpler, leaner company. We’ve halved global warehouse capacity, reduced systems and invested more in digital products and services.

    We’re excited about the Pearson System of Courses – products like PSoC combine new technology with great teaching to help many more student do well and go on to succeed in their lives - combining depth and breadth of learning, which is engaging and empowering for both students and teachers. Like any innovation there are always difficulties - and in a school environment not everything works perfectly first time - but these are brilliant products and we are determined to see it through. We also care about Pearson’s culture, although none would argue that it has been a bruising time for our colleagues - we’ve cut 5,000 roles - mainly in print or mature markets - whilst we’ve added new roles in tech, efficacy, education, research and fast growing markets.

    Our values - to be brave, imaginative, and decent - have been tested, but ultimately they’ve been reaffirmed and strengthened – and we are working hard to reward our people. And now we’ve added a fourth value - accountability - highlighting our commitment to a simple and incredibly powerful idea – that every product we sell can be measured and judged by social impact. We are accountable for the outcomes we help people to achieve. And we will be transparent on how we report on our progress.

    There are few things in life more important than education. Our commitment to accountability extends to greater willingness to engage in the public debate. We are engaging with students, teachers, parents and all those who care about education around the world. That’s why we’ve led a public debate around higher standards in the UK. It is why we are engaging directly with parents, and students – as well as teachers - in America. It drives our commitment to report publicly on our progress on efficacy. It explains the very exciting new partnership we’ve formed with Save The Children to support education in Syrian refugee camps. And it is why we are encouraging all 40,000 Pearson colleagues to volunteer in our local communities.

    Not everyone will agree with us. And we’ll make some mistakes along the way. But we’ll always strive to do better – and to sustain the support and trust of those we work with every day. As we do this work - some folk may question whether a sense of social purpose and a profit motive can go hand in hand. We think that what makes Pearson an incredibly special company is that they always go hand in hand. The profit we make is the by-product of making a useful and meaningful addition to society and few things are more important than empowering far more people to progress through learning. This should make Pearson a higher returning company to shareholders and communities we serve for many years to come.

    Now, I was going to end there, but I received a letter as I arrived at the AGM this morning, and I want to respond to it directly. I want to tell you about my dad. When he trained as a teacher in the late 1940s, he felt his career choice was as highly valued in society as, for example, being a doctor or accountant. When he retired, it was a cause of some sadness that he felt the status of teachers had declined not just in pay, but also in the professional respect in which they were held. He lived long enough to see that with the support of education secretaries from both the right and left - David Blunkett and Ken Baker notably - the professional standing of teachers is starting to recover - but there is still a long way to go. We need to do more still.  This is something I personally feel strongly about and it’s why we sponsor the Pearson Teaching Awards every year - and why 15,000 of our employees started as a teacher themselves, and why many more like me have deep family connections in education. You can be under no doubt that everyone in this company has greatest respect for the teaching profession.

    In that spirit - let’s also make a few things clear. As an exam board here in the UK and a testing organization in America, we have a responsibility to every student, and to every teacher, to ensure that the exams, and the tests they take are fair – and it is demonstrably not fair if some students have seen the questions online before they even take the exam. We do think assessments – or exams – are important, to give parents reassurance that their kids are on track to do well – and, if not, the confidence that something is being done about it. They are also really important for universities and employers. We do want fewer, smarter, better exams – or assessments – and we do think they should be just one measure of progress as part of a wider framework. We do believe in higher standards – and that teachers need to be given the time and support to adjust to those standards. Most of all, I publicly and enthusiastically support free public education for every child around the world. Yet the reality today is this: 65 million primary school-aged children don’t get to go to school, hundreds of millions of secondary school aged kids don’t get to school - and many millions more are still largely illiterate and innumerate.

    If this was health or hunger, we would be talking about an urgent humanitarian crisis.  In education it takes a generation for the true social cost to be borne out, so unfortunately the alarm bells don’t ring as loudly. Faced with that challenge and reality, we as a leading learning company have a responsibility to work with every part of society, government, local authorities, aid-agencies, charities, and, yes, local entrepreneurs and private companies as well - to give as many people as we can the chance of a better education and a better start in life.

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    Read the full transcript from the AGM.

     

     

  • 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.

  • The day my life changed

    by Gwen Hodgson

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    In amongst the day to days of life as usual, we all have the odd date that gets hardwired into our memory banks. The days when something out of the ordinary happened, a bolt that breaks up the trudge of routine and stands-up screaming “you’ll never forget me!”. Life changing, hopefully life making, sometimes life breaking - the days that come to define us.

    Mine is April 4, 2006. A little over nine years ago, but as fresh as yesterday. I will never forget it. The day I took Jaq, my beautiful two year old boy, to the doctor.

    Jaq had always been a ‘challenging’ baby. Not in the way that all babies thunder in to shake up your life. He was certainly that - but more too. Something I couldn’t put my finger on at the time; just something that didn’t feel quite right. He would sometimes be totally engrossed in an activity, then seem suddenly detached as if there was nothing but empty space around him. Sometimes he would scream uncontrollably for hours on end, but shudder away from any attempts to comfort him. Other times, he would cling to me as if fearing he would fall off the edge of a cliff if he let go.

    April 4 2006 was the day I learned Jaq has autism. I had found myself in the office of a developmental and behavioral doctor. A few weeks earlier, at Jaq’s two year check up, the pediatrician had explained that Jaq didn’t seem to be meeting the milestones like a typical child, and we should look into why that might be.

    I remember feeling totally overwhelmed by the news. I had almost no understanding of autism; wasn’t that something very serious? And no idea why Jaq had it, or what to do to deal with it. And I felt guilty. Had I done something wrong? Had I not protected him from something? Was this all my fault?

    In today’s world of hyper information at your fingers, it seems odd to recall that when I went looking for answers, they were hard to find. Today there’s a huge autism ‘family’ that stretches right around the world - parents, carers, teachers, doctors, psychologists…. and autistic people, all pulling together to better understand autism. In the last decade we’ve learned so much about autism. People are properly diagnosed, and early. We might be shocked by the numbers - it’s estimated that 1-2 people in every 1,000 worldwide have some sort of autism; but it’s a sign of progress that we know this. And we’re learning all the time what therapies work, and how to modify teaching and learning practices to suit individual needs.

    But back on April 4 2006, I knew none of this. Slowly I learned. I learned about the science of it all - how autism isn’t one thing, but a spectrum with a myriad of moving parts. How everyone’s autism is unique to them - in the same way we’re all made up of shades of intelligence, ambition, shyness, humour, so too is it impossible to bucket autism into a neat single lump. I learned what worked for Jaq -  the vacuum cleaner running next to his bouncy seat; or his big brother doing a funny ‘Sponge Bob’ dance. I have no idea why those things worked, but they did.

    And I’ve also learned that, despite the conversations around autism being largely rooted in medical terms, we shouldn’t see it as condition to be cured. Sure, there are things that people with autism can do to improve their lives - but isn’t that the same for everyone? Don’t we all want to be a bit more determined, a bit cleverer, more confident, better to cope with what life throws at us? Aren’t we all striving to be better versions of us; and happier!

    As Jaq’s grown older, we’ve used clinical assessments to inform the best therapeutic and educational interventions. These have been absolutely crucial for Jaq. Like any education of a child done well, it’s given him the start in life he needs. Jaq’s ten years old now. He’s in a mainstream school, and is considered ‘high-functioning’. That’s the official take. I consider him as my gorgeous little man - always trying his best, sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong, but always making progress.

    If Jaq had been born years earlier, odds are he wouldn’t be any of those things. Education may have brushed him to one side, classing him as unable, lazy, troublesome. And that is the power of education. That when it makes progress, so do people.

    April 4 2006 - a life making day.

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    Get in touch with Gwen on twitter - @HRGwen

    Learn more about Pearson’s work in this area.  

  • Educate refugees or lose a generation

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

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    How do you educate refugee children in places with a shortage of trained teachers, a lack of resources, and where school records have been lost? In the last four years, across the Middle East and North Africa, millions of young refugees have fled from their homes. And an entire generation, millions of children, are at risk of growing up without an education.

    The threat of an educational void is becoming abundantly clear in places like Syria. More than 2.3 million children inside the country are not in school. Of the hundreds of thousands who have fled, nearly half are not receiving any education at all. In Lebanon, there are more school age refugees than the entire intake of the country’s public schools, and only one in five Syrian children are enrolled. Sadly, it’s a similar situation in Jordan and Iraq. Aid needs to reflect the new, longer-term reality of conflicts, and should include the means for providing access to education to those who have had to migrate and are forced to establish a new life.

    Abu Mohamad, a Syrian refugee, recently told his story to CNN about small businesses in refugee camps. He started a pizza delivery service for other refugees and aid workers living in his camp. “I couldn’t sit and wait for the situation to change,” he said. “We always want more for our families.” But not everyone is an entrepreneur, particularly young children – many of whom lack access to basic education. Not everyone has the necessary tools at their disposal.

    Last month, the UK pledged £100m to help support Syrian refugees with food, medical care and relief items. The UK Department for International Development has committed more than £800m – the UK’s largest ever response to any humanitarian crisis. And USAID, between 2012 and 2015, donated $570m to help Syrian refugees. This is all much-needed support. Given the reality of this crisis, we need to supplement these efforts. More governments, NGOs and companies can play a significant role in improving access to education in these settings.

    Much as food aid often includes basic essentials needed for survival, education assistance needs to be rapidly deployable but without compromising on quality. Refugee camps and host communities need easily accessible materials and low- or no-cost tools for education that work in challenging settings. Some organisations are already leading the way.

    UNICEF helped more than 375,000 Syrian children last year access formal and informal education through school construction and rehabilitation, teacher training and provision of school materials for teachers and students. In Jordan, staff and volunteers from Save the Children are creating specialised teacher training and support programs for those operating in conflict regions. These sessions will equip teachers with an entirely new way of approaching lesson plans, homework and grading. Save the Children has also developed a database of emergency personnel for education. These experts can be dispatched on short notice to areas affected by emergencies.

    All this can be done without traditional classroom tools. Teachers work from condensed, modified curriculum, written to be delivered quickly and affordably. Mobile-delivered teaching resources can be vital when communication and normal delivery methods are limited by circumstance. And there is a need for solutions for grading tests where no national marking system exists and where students lack school records.

    Education is often among the first casualties of sustained conflict, and all too often, the international focus simply moves on to the next conflict, leaving a massive skills and knowledge void in its wake. Children out of school are vulnerable to the influence of extremism, a growing threat in the region, criminal behaviour and other forms of exploitation. Many host governments are stretched to the limits in terms of their ability to absorb the influx of refugee students into schools in already-struggling education systems.

    How can we make a difference? Businesses must prioritise the social impact we stand to make as major players in the global economy, and we must do so with a view to the future.

    In 2015, the UN is examining where focus must go following the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, and education will surely be among the priorities for the new Sustainable Development Goals.  There is work to be done. I encourage all businesses to examine their core competencies—whether in logistics, product design, communications or whatever their area of expertise – that can be applied or offered to refugee communities to drive educational improvements at little or no cost.

    The late professor C.K. Prahalad said: “The big challenge for humanity is to get everybody, not just the elite, to participate in globalisation and avail its benefits.” The shift in our thinking I’ve described around moving from a short to a long-term view of how we assist those in need through education, and what Prahalad envisioned, is about inclusion, it is about fairness and it is about allowing everyone, not just those at the top of the pyramid, to have a chance.

    (Click here to read about our own partnership with Save the Children, and join the conversation on Twitter at #EveryChildLearning.) 

     

  • How tests are changing

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

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    Amidst all the noise in American education, something interesting is happening across the country: students from grades three to eleven are taking new assessments aligned to higher standards and it’s going well. That’s not to say the work is complete. It's not easy to implement new assessments and there is still a tremendous amount we can learn and improve upon as we move through the school year.

    The shift to higher standards sets higher aspirations for all students involved. It demands new ways to determine whether our students are learning. These changes include digital testing methods that score tests faster and more accurately, and at lower costs to schools, along with multi-step questions that measure critical thinking, reasoning and the ability to apply skills and knowledge in reading, writing and mathematics. Students now write responses based on texts – fiction and non-fiction - and multimedia components to support their point of view.

    They are also solving complex math problems that require reasoning and address real-world situations. These skills are critically important for students in college and in the workplace. Because of these new kinds of questions, students will receive a better indication of their progress with detailed analysis of their answers to each test question.

    Teachers will have data specific to each student that is useful and timely, as the assessment is built with them in mind. For example, Joanie Funderburk, a math teacher for 25 years, was deeply involved in developing the assessment, helping ensure that students would be given appropriate feedback. Funderburk, with 25 other Colorado educators, met twice a year together with other teachers to ask questions, give input, and provide feedback to shape what was important to each state. She noted, “PARCC* is built upon an evidence-based design: starting with the standards, identifying the specific skills and knowledge the standards require, then designing tests and items that align to those knowledge and skills.”

    Parents are also able to be more involved, in supporting their children and their local teachers. They can access more information about their child and have an accurate gauge on progress. And employers benefit from a workforce ready for the jobs of a dynamically different economy.

    Parents are however rightfully concerned about the pressures on children. We need fewer, better tests. And these richer assessments that capture student performance and produce more and better feedback, should reduce the need for benchmark, or “drill” style tests, that have exploded in use over the last decade. These tests should also be replaced by new platforms that enable teachers to observe more naturally and effectively how their students are doing. These platforms allow teachers to make small, incremental adjustments based on the individual needs of each student through the school year rather than waiting until the end of the year, when it is much harder to recover lost ground. Parents should also be reassured that, implemented properly, it means less rote style “teaching to the test”. The best way to prepare students to perform well on these new assessments is for teachers to focus completely on the rich, deeper curriculum demanded by these new, higher standards.

    Teachers should also be given time to adapt the curriculum for students, and their own teaching style. It’s one thing if you start in third grade, with a new class and a new way of teaching math. But if you’re in eighth or ninth grade, it’s understandably harder for teachers, and students, to adapt. Just as each student is different, so is each school district, and the pace of change will vary from state to state. It is vital that teachers are given the time, space and encouragement to work with, and learn from, each other through what would be a big change in practice for any profession.

    Some specific issues color perceptions and hamper progress. In New Jersey this week, for example, a student posted on Twitter details of a test question he had just taken but that other students had yet to take. It is only one question, but it is still unfair to students and jeopardizes the integrity of the test. Pearson found the tweet through a monitoring service that is part of our contractual obligation to make sure test information doesn’t leak. It looks for keywords, directly relevant to the test, not the individuals taking it. We immediately alerted our customer, the New Jersey Department of Education, who contacted the student to remove the tweet.

    While this is a standard procedure and aligns with high stakes testing best practice, parents were understandably concerned about their children’s privacy. Pearson does not monitor individual students and never views information that is not public. But as a parent, I would never want my child to compete against other students who had an unfair advantage due to leaked information.

    As close as I am to the issues, I’m learning more every day. What’s important is to focus our attention on issues that really impact students – like ensuring students are prepared for college and take fewer, fairer, smarter tests. Creating smarter tests that better serve students will require the active cooperation of everyone who has a stake in our shared future.

     

    *PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure the progress of students towards college and career readiness.

    (Syndicated content)

     

  • The state of parenting

    by Stacy Skelly

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    I am proud to be “mom” to two adorable little boys — a three-year-old and a seven-month old. Becoming a mom has really changed me for the better. As anyone who is one will know, being a parent isn't always easy. In fact, it's often quite hard. It is a challenge like no other, but so are the rewards. I wouldn't change it for the world.

    It’s so true that parents really are our children’s first and most important teachers. Every day I’m amazed by how quickly my boys are learning and growing. They will be attending school soon, and when they do I hope those first steps at home will have set them on a good foot in their academic lives... and continue to do so as they find their way into work and adulthood. The nuts and bolts of what they'll need to know for life might be taught in the classroom, but equally important will be the behaviors we will try to keep encouraging at home - ambition, resilience, determination, and kindness.

    We are 40,000 strong at Pearson, and many of those 40,000 people are parents. So when, as a company, we say 'we’re putting the learner at the center of everything we do' it's not just a throw-away line or a bullet point on a strategic document -- it's a personal commitment that many of us first made not as employees, but as parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents, in our own home, to our own kids. It’s not a promise articulated in terms of 'learner at the center,' but rather "I'm going to love you and never give up on you." It's a promise that each of us takes beyond our own families, around the corners of the kids in our neighborhood, and across state and national borders. It's a promise we make to all children, wherever they may be: education has the power to make your life better.

    That's why I’m excited to share the findings from a new NBC News National Survey of American Parents, which is shedding light on the current state of parenting in the U.S. Conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, the research paints a new portrait of the American family, and really encourages us to think about the crucial link between a strong family and a strong education.

    A few of my favorite poll highlights are:

    • 75% of America’s parents give high marks to the education their children are receiving

    • 79% of parents reported having dinner with their families most days of the week

    • Two-thirds of parents say their children's overall academic performance is excellent (39%) or very good (25%)

    • A little more than half (53 percent) of parents are satisfied with their level of involvement in their child’s education, but almost as many parents (47 percent) wish they could do more.

    You can learn more about the findings at www.ParentToolkit.com/Poll and share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #StateofParenting.

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    Stacy works in our North American team. Connect with her on Twitter on @StacySkel