A legal analyst for the New Jersey education department told a legislative committee the other day that Pearson, the multi-billion dollar British corporation that produces the PARCC tests, could protect its “intellectual property” rights in the test by searching out what students are posting about the test on social media sites. The only problem with what Patrician Morgan said was this: Pearson doesn’t own the tests or the test questions.
A few days earlier, The New York Times blog “Bits” reported that PARCC–a coalition of a dozen states that hired Pearson to develop the tests–had ordered Pearson to stop using a database of student information to search out the students. There is a problem with that, too–few, if any, people outside the PARCC coalition even knew Pearson, a private company, had access to such a database.
Someone is lying. Or obfuscating. And the pity is that, given how feckless the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee was the other day in drawing out information from the education department, most parents are left not knowing what was going on.
State Education Commissioner David Hespe, in a move of breathtaking cowardice, refused to show up to answer the committee’s questions. He had been asked to come to the meeting days before but somehow could not clear his calendar in time to address the uproar over the revelations in this site that Pearson was spying on the social media postings of New Jersey children. Pearson also didn’t show up. To plead a previous engagement was, pure and simple, a lie.
Instead, he sent a young lawyer, Patricia Morgan, who read from a script and then offered to answer questions, although it was clear she knew very little about the subject. That, too, was an egregious act of contempt for the legislators and concerned parents throughout New Jersey.
Morgan did spend some time talking about the intellectual property rights of Pearson, the developer of the test. “It could be viewed as intellectual property and they do have the ability to protect their intellectual property,” she said.
The legislators didn’t pursue what she said and she refused to answer questions from the press. Although Michael Yaple, the press spokesman for the department, stood outside and handed his business cards out to reporters, he wouldn’t explain what she meant. Nor would he the following day.
Because there is a problem here: Pearson doesn’t own the questions. It doesn’t have intellectual property rights in the text of the tests. Pearson itself posted a statement saying:
“Pearson is the lead testing contractor for PARCC. We were successful in winning a multi-year bid to develop and administer the PARCC tests to students in a group of states. That group of states sets all policy for PARCC, and owns all aspects of the program – including the actual test questions. “(Emphasis added).
PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a coalition of 12 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to New Jersey, the members are Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island. That coalition hired Pearson to come up with a test and the exam has become known as the PARCC test.
So why did Morgan talk about Pearson’s right to seek redress for violations of intellectual property rights? The department isn’t saying–and the legislators apparently don’t care.
Just as they apparently don’t care about the use of a student data-base New Jersey provided to Pearson to help it track down students who might be posting about the PARCC test. Nowhere in her testimony did Morgan talk about a data-base of student information made available to Pearson.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo came close to a potentially explosive issue when he asked about “PowerSchool,” a student data base program used by many districts–and owned and operated by Pearson. The information in it can be linked to NJSMART, a state database containing information about every student and teacher in New Jersey. Caputo asked Morgan directly whether Pearson operated PowerSchool:
“I am unable to confirm that but I will check on it,” she said.
It was, of course, absurd–and unacceptable–for Hespe not to appear and to send in his place someone who could not answer questions. Nothing was more important to the commissioner than this issue. It was a betrayal of the public trust.
In the same way spying on children is a betrayal of the public trust.
Morgan knew little about PowerSchool. Didn’t even know it was a Pearson operation.