The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.
The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill— collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.
The analysis notes that of the four, only one, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has signed the Student Privacy Pledge, an initiative by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association to get K-12 school service providers to pledge to safeguard student privacy built around a dozen commitments regarding the collection, maintenance, and use of student personal information. Currently 127 providers have signed it.
Here’s a summary of findings from the new analysis on lobbying by testing corporations:
Pearson Education: Apart from $8 million spent lobbying from 2009 to 2014, Pearson also underwrote untold sums on luxury trips for school officials. A crackdown by the New York attorney general led to a $7.7 million settlement in 2013, and the shuttering of the “charitable” organization used for the scheme. The company is currently embroiled in a lawsuit in New Mexico for alleged bid rigging when landing an “unprecedented” $1 billion contract for K-12 testing with no other bidders, an allegation the company denied but which warrants greater scrutiny by policymakers.
ETS (Educational Testing Service): The $1 billion-a-year nonprofit pays its directors for-profit salaries. Outgoing president Kurt Landgraf received $1.3 million in total compensation in 2013. ETS has lobbied against legislation to require agencies to “immediately initiate an investigation” after complaints on “inadequate” testing conditions. It also lobbied against a bill designed to safeguard pupil data in subcontracting. ETS has also developed guidelines for tests which explicitly ban any mention of evolution and global warming.