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  • The private sector and the public trust

    by Amar Kumar

    hero img

    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.

    read more
  • Are you ready for a renaissance in assessment?

    by Amar Kumar

    hero img

    I was recently having coffee with my friend, Jodie, a teacher in England. She was telling me a story about an English test she had once given her class. The scores from the test showed that several of her students had clearly not grasped some important concepts. Alas the test had been designed simply to produce a score, rather than to uncover insights. It gave the grades, without the whys. And without those whys, how could she know what to revisit, with whom, and how?

    In particular, one of her ‘star’ students, who she had expected to fly through the test, had not.  It turned out that on the morning of the test, he had had a big fight with his brother, and this had clearly affected his performance. Yet the test simply told her that he hadn't understood the topic.

    There is a rapidly accelerating debate amongst educators around the world – from developed and developing economies, and from schools, universities and professionals – about the purpose and use of assessments. A new consensus is emerging advocating for the use of new technologies to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of assessments.

    Today’s publication of Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment contributes to this debate and advocates for a new set of principles and guidelines in the way assessments are designed, conducted, and applied.

    We probably all know what we mean by “assessment”. In the broadest sense possible, it’s any appraisal, judgement, or evaluation of a student’s work or performance. These evaluations can be formal (e.g., standardised testing) or informal (e.g., classroom observations), and determine what students know, how much they understand, what they can do, and what they struggle with.

    But for me, and for an increasing majority of the education community, assessment is so much more than a certification of a student’s ability or a mark of their likelihood to succeed in further study or employment. Assessment is - or at least it should be - a way to help teachers teach better; a way to inform them of their students’ needs and make the appropriate interventions.

    Yet assessments have historically been used predominantly to hold teachers, schools, and systems to account for the performance (and largely academic performance only) of their students. As such they have tended to ignore the full compliment of a student’s ability: Does he display emotional intelligence? Can she solve a problem? Can they work well as a team?; and subsequently focus on a too narrow definition of ‘value’ for outcomes.

    A cappuccino and more conversation later, Jodie recalled a particular student who failed her math and science tests, but always shone when it came to creative writing. Unfortunately, back then, creative writing wasn’t a skill anyone tracked. So the writer in her - the thing that gave her most potential - was ignored, and so unnourished.

    However, the scent of a renaissance is now in the air.

    New technologies are rapidly making assessments more reliable, less subjective, and less time consuming. For example, adaptive testing technologies (i.e., tests that evolve in real time based on student performance) increase the accuracy of the assessment and can reduce the number of questions a student needs to answer. Automated exam marking can reduce the subjectivity of grading for more qualitative subjects such as history, English, and creative writing. And personalised learning tools can integrate assessments into the day-to-day activities of a classroom, so teachers get real-time feedback on student performance, rather than having to wait until the end of a unit or semester.

    In this new environment, assessments are no longer this conveyor belt of one-moment-in-time temperature checks. No longer do they rely solely on the assessed only having one chance to prove what they know. No longer do they simply produce the letters and numbers for someone to carry about for life.

    Rather, the assessment renaissance is cultivating a new approach; a virtuous circle of insights, interventions, and improvements, where teaching and technology come together in perfect harmony.

    The authors of the new paper detail the steps that policymakers, schools, teachers, and parents need to take in order to prepare for this renaissance. Among their recommendations is an investment in training teachers, so they can better use technologies to make assessment less subjective, less time consuming, more reliable, and ultimately more purposeful.

    When Jodie was just beginning her teaching career, she said one statistic in particular left its imprint. Only 10% of students who were assessed as below average at the start of secondary school went on to achieve good grades by the end. She told me she wanted to know why, in all the intervening years, they weren’t able to uncover the reasons why 90% of students weren’t getting better? When, Jodie asks, will assessments become less about pleasing the school management team and more about understanding how she can become a better teacher and help her students achieve their ambitions?

    Well Jodie, the renaissance is upon us.

     ***

    Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment is authored by Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, and Dr Peter Hill. It is available at research.pearson.com.

     

    read more
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John Fallon

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  • The private sector and the public trust

    by Amar Kumar

    hero img

    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.

    read more
  • Are you ready for a renaissance in assessment?

    by Amar Kumar

    hero img

    I was recently having coffee with my friend, Jodie, a teacher in England. She was telling me a story about an English test she had once given her class. The scores from the test showed that several of her students had clearly not grasped some important concepts. Alas the test had been designed simply to produce a score, rather than to uncover insights. It gave the grades, without the whys. And without those whys, how could she know what to revisit, with whom, and how?

    In particular, one of her ‘star’ students, who she had expected to fly through the test, had not.  It turned out that on the morning of the test, he had had a big fight with his brother, and this had clearly affected his performance. Yet the test simply told her that he hadn't understood the topic.

    There is a rapidly accelerating debate amongst educators around the world – from developed and developing economies, and from schools, universities and professionals – about the purpose and use of assessments. A new consensus is emerging advocating for the use of new technologies to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of assessments.

    Today’s publication of Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment contributes to this debate and advocates for a new set of principles and guidelines in the way assessments are designed, conducted, and applied.

    We probably all know what we mean by “assessment”. In the broadest sense possible, it’s any appraisal, judgement, or evaluation of a student’s work or performance. These evaluations can be formal (e.g., standardised testing) or informal (e.g., classroom observations), and determine what students know, how much they understand, what they can do, and what they struggle with.

    But for me, and for an increasing majority of the education community, assessment is so much more than a certification of a student’s ability or a mark of their likelihood to succeed in further study or employment. Assessment is - or at least it should be - a way to help teachers teach better; a way to inform them of their students’ needs and make the appropriate interventions.

    Yet assessments have historically been used predominantly to hold teachers, schools, and systems to account for the performance (and largely academic performance only) of their students. As such they have tended to ignore the full compliment of a student’s ability: Does he display emotional intelligence? Can she solve a problem? Can they work well as a team?; and subsequently focus on a too narrow definition of ‘value’ for outcomes.

    A cappuccino and more conversation later, Jodie recalled a particular student who failed her math and science tests, but always shone when it came to creative writing. Unfortunately, back then, creative writing wasn’t a skill anyone tracked. So the writer in her - the thing that gave her most potential - was ignored, and so unnourished.

    However, the scent of a renaissance is now in the air.

    New technologies are rapidly making assessments more reliable, less subjective, and less time consuming. For example, adaptive testing technologies (i.e., tests that evolve in real time based on student performance) increase the accuracy of the assessment and can reduce the number of questions a student needs to answer. Automated exam marking can reduce the subjectivity of grading for more qualitative subjects such as history, English, and creative writing. And personalised learning tools can integrate assessments into the day-to-day activities of a classroom, so teachers get real-time feedback on student performance, rather than having to wait until the end of a unit or semester.

    In this new environment, assessments are no longer this conveyor belt of one-moment-in-time temperature checks. No longer do they rely solely on the assessed only having one chance to prove what they know. No longer do they simply produce the letters and numbers for someone to carry about for life.

    Rather, the assessment renaissance is cultivating a new approach; a virtuous circle of insights, interventions, and improvements, where teaching and technology come together in perfect harmony.

    The authors of the new paper detail the steps that policymakers, schools, teachers, and parents need to take in order to prepare for this renaissance. Among their recommendations is an investment in training teachers, so they can better use technologies to make assessment less subjective, less time consuming, more reliable, and ultimately more purposeful.

    When Jodie was just beginning her teaching career, she said one statistic in particular left its imprint. Only 10% of students who were assessed as below average at the start of secondary school went on to achieve good grades by the end. She told me she wanted to know why, in all the intervening years, they weren’t able to uncover the reasons why 90% of students weren’t getting better? When, Jodie asks, will assessments become less about pleasing the school management team and more about understanding how she can become a better teacher and help her students achieve their ambitions?

    Well Jodie, the renaissance is upon us.

     ***

    Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment is authored by Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, and Dr Peter Hill. It is available at research.pearson.com.

     

    read more
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