"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Curriculum Associates, "Learning Loss," and Corporate Gain

Curriculum Associates (CA) started in a garage in 1969 with four employees, and for twenty years the company marketed supplementary basic curriculum materials to K-12 school systems.  In 1989, the original head of the company, Frank Ferguson, saw the testing accountability writing on the wall, and he expanded the focus of the company into the assessment market with the creation of TEST READY®  Mathematics.  

In 2008, Ferguson stepped down as CEO and hired Rob Waldron, who had previously run Kaplan's after-school tutoring division, which was funded in the early 2000s by billions of NCLB federal education dollars that ended up in corporate coffers.  This is a clip from a 2008 Harper's article by a former Kaplan employee:

In New York City, Kaplan provides NCLB- mandated tutoring for the high school Regents exams and the subject exams administered to students in the third through eighth grades.) Many educators argue that the gains from prep courses are negligible and the programs themselves ultimately harmful, since they drain precious funds and class time. A recent Chicago Public Schools study examining student performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills found “little difference between tutored students and those who were eligible but did not receive tutoring.” The price tag for supplemental tutoring in Chicago, which 60,000 students received in the 2004–2005 school year: $50 million.

In Waldron's first year as CEO at Curriculum Associates, CA did $26 million in business. By 2020, CA was doing $260 million a year and was in the top 10 education publishers in the world. 

You see, CA was one of the first companies to see the gargantuan profit potential in Common Core.  In 2008, the company aggressively created and marketed print materials aligned with Common Core. 

Then in 2011, CA entered the computer based assessment and personalized learning market with i-Ready, a diagnostic and instructional tool, once again Common Core based, that put CA in the education industry big leagues.  

Meanwhile, Frank Ferguson, who remained active in the company, decided to turn philanthropist and donate the value of his CA shares in the company.  Rob Waldron was able to find a buyer in Berkshire Partners, where he had previously worked, and in 2017 Ferguson handed over his $200 million to two causes.  Iowa State University received three-fourths of the cash, and the Boston Foundation (a needy organization, for sure) received the balance.

So now Berkshire Partners is a partner of Curriculum Associates, even though Waldron remains in charge of operations.

In October, 2020, Waldron became the only education market CEO to be named to the newly-formed CEO Council for the global Association of Test Publishers (ATP). 

So it is not surprising, then, that McKinsey and Company's insipid report on "learning loss" in reading and math during the Covid pandemic depends upon unreliable and invalid data supplied by, you guessed it, Curriculum Associates. The data are taken from formative diagnostic test results gleaned just after school resumed Fall 2020, which purports to identify student groups who are two grade levels behind.  

And what is grade level, and who determined it?  Well, of course, grade level is determined by criterion-referenced diagnostic tests that mirror Common Core grade-level assumptions, the same tests that Curriculum Associates sells and the same ones Rob Waldron would like to see purchased by every school in the U.S.--rather than just the 30 percent of them that have bought in so far.

Expect Curriculum Associates to expand its role as a major player in the next generation of racist and classist standardized tests and teacher-proof instructional materials.

1 comment:

  1. And, alas, we have Donald Trump to show for the dumbing down of the American population, where are civics and history? GONE! So much work to be done. I really worry about my grandchildren's future. And yours.