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AFT has financial ties to PARCC owners

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

The American Federation of Teachers is pushing global education giant Pearson PLC to become more profitable while at the same time fighting the company’s PARCC test.

The 1.6 million-member AFT, the third-largest labor union in the nation, is backing a resolution demanding that Pearson conduct a business strategy review in response to a 40 percent drop in its stock price over the past year.

That decline affects AFT members: 27 affiliates’ retirement funds include the company’s shares.

London-based Pearson, the world’s largest education company and book publisher, is part of the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index, a group of major British corporations that draws investments from many retirement funds.

The New Mexico Public Education Department, which introduced the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test last year, slammed the AFT for its financial ties to the company.

“It is the very height of hypocrisy for the union to publicly bash an organization, yet gladly take their money behind closed doors,” PED spokesman Robert McEntyre wrote in an emailed statement. “The union’s actions are stunning, and it tells you everything you need to know about this special interest group.”

AFT New Mexico did not respond to a request for comment.

The relationship between AFT and Pearson, longtime combatants on education policy, is also tense.

AFT blames Pearson’s plummeting stock value on “confused business strategy” and “a tin ear to the rapidly changing education landscape,” particularly related to high-stakes exams such as the PARCC.

“In U.S. schools, a growing ‘opt-out’ movement of parents and students against standardized tests, which are crucial to Pearson’s business model, is again gathering steam ahead of May’s peak testing season,” AFT officials wrote in a news release posted online this month.

Increasingly, education is moving “away from test-and-punish policies,” leaving Pearson out of step, the union claims.

AFT New Mexico and its local affiliate, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, have been vocal in their opposition to high-stakes testing. Union members have spoken out during Albuquerque Public Schools board meetings, saying they are spending too much time administering exams of questionable value.

Last year, about 4 percent of Albuquerque Public Schools students opted out of PARCC and close to 40 schools lost a letter grade because they dropped below 95 percent participation.

Enthusiasm for PARCC seems to be dropping nationwide.

In 2010, 26 states were in the PARCC consortium. Now there are only eight fully participating members: Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.

Pearson says reports of its decline are greatly exaggerated.

A rebuttal to the shareholder resolution posted on the company website highlights a 17 percent rise in stock prices over the past two months “in a market which has overall slightly declined.”

Assessments make up less than 10 percent of the company’s business worldwide, and the majority of its work “supports educational content and services.”

Pearson also argues that testing is “an important tool to promote equity in education and measure student progress” that is not disappearing.

The company administered roughly 50 million assessments across the U.S. last year, including more than 200,000 PARCC tests in New Mexico.

PARCC, which is designed to align with Common Core standards, has ignited controversy.

Last year, New Mexico students in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and other communities walked out of class on the first day of the exam to make a statement about the new standardized test.

In Albuquerque, between 900 and 1,000 students staged protests at seven public schools and one charter school, including roughly 400 students from Rio Grande High School and South Valley Academy who left the school grounds to join other student protesters at Atrisco Heritage Academy.