Commercialization of Education in Standardized Testing
The commercialization of education is defined as private ownership of educational institutions that make investments for the motive of earning profit. Recently, the commercialization of education has proliferated on a global scale because of the reliance of standardized testing for acceptance into higher educational institutions. Marketing tactics used by corporate entities have shifted the priority of society from viewing students as learners to consumers of education who have monetary value. Standardized testing is one of the ways in which students are targeted by academic advertisements in the educational market. The utilization of standardized tests has been criticized regarding whether or not students should be subjected to education as a business product. Private for-profit corporations marketize standardized tests, unethically exploit students in their mission to earn profit, and negatively impact student learning.
Marketization of Standardized Testing
Private for-profit corporations are composed of independent businesses or organizations that focus on maximizing profits rather than on community welfare. These corporations, which have become testing companies, have focused on profiting off of education through the marketing of standardized testing. The biggest example is Pearson, the largest education company in the world, earning billions of dollars every year from the curricula and standardized tests they provide on a global scale. Pearson profits by encouraging new standards on standardized tests, which have been labeled as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The government awards states that adopt the CCSS with grants through the Race to the Top (RTTT) program (Lee and Yin Wu 2-3). Because of this, the demand for standardized tests increases as more and more states are paying Pearson for their standardized tests in order to implement the CCSS, increasing Pearson’s profits. Not only does Pearson provide the standardized tests, they also influence the Common Core State Standards themselves as they are regularly reviewed, revised, and updated. Stated on their website, Pearson has a “close association with key authors and architects of the Common Core State Standards” (1). Due to this, Pearson can constantly change the CCSS causing states to keep paying them for their standardized tests, altogether marketizing them.
Along with Pearson, other private for-profit corporations are using corporate advertising of their resources for standardized tests. Professor Frauke Hachtmann from the Department of Advertising at the University of Nebraska states that an example of corporate advertising can be found in the materials provided for school curriculum (575). The testing corporations provide company branded materials as a way to increase the emphasis of their tests and exposure. By doing so, they are able to extend their power and dominate the business of making and scoring standardized tests while the demand for them continues to increase. With it, revenue made by corporations progressively grows, consequently increasing their lobbying and marketing power. A report by In the Public Interest, an education research and policy center, found that Pearson and McGraw-Hill, another large education company that provides educational material, help fund the Foundation for Educational Excellence, a national organization focused on writing state education reform (1). The report disclosed emails between the companies and the organization that revealed them to be collaborating in the writing of state laws that benefit corporate funders (2). This demonstrates that private for-profit corporations use their increased lobbying power resulting from their increased profits to influence benefiting reforms in their favor, further commercializing education by marketizing standardized testing.
The methods in which standardized tests have been marketized by private for-profit corporations has led to ethical concerns. The marketization of standardized testing has constantly been criticized for being unethical in society because it diverts from the morally driven motive of educating students. Recently, students are viewed as “consumers” and education as a “consumer good” (Porfilio and Yu 2). This view has pervaded the standardized testing market, encompassing schools as testing corporations advertise to students, unethically exploiting their reliance on standardized test scores to get into higher educational institutions.
For-profit companies and their unethical advertising had challenged their jurisdiction in influencing school curriculum (Myers 70). Pearson, as previously stated, has the power to change the Common Core State Standards that standardized tests fall under. Their influence in the rewriting of the CCSS and its curriculum, and then later monetizing off of changes made, are regarded as unethical because it is viewed as the exploitation of education for profit. Other ethical concerns regarding school curriculum can be found with the insertion of corporate advertisements of trademarked brands. Instructional Technology Professor Lynne Schrum, from the University of Georgia, describes an example with the use of products such as Oreo cookies, Big Macs, and Barbie dolls, inserted in the math problems of a McGraw-Hill math book (1). This is viewed as unethical because the trademarked products do not add beneficially to student learning and are there for pure advertisement. Testing corporations claim they do not receive compensation by including them from the brand companies, but it is believed by ethicists that further investigations should take place.
Effects on Students
Along with the ethical challenges, the marketization of standardized testing by private for-profit corporations has resulted in negative effects on student learning. Because of corporate standardized tests, students are exposed to uniform tests that are meant to give all students an equal opportunity. Howerever, Peterson claims that each student has a different style of learning that is disregarded when standardized tests are implemented in school curriculum by corporate test providers (4). This suggests that academic success is achieved with the loss of a diverse learning experience. Because students learn only for the test, they do not actually retain any information because their way of learning is not considered.
Student learning continues to be negatively impacted as private for-profit corporations control over standardized testing increases. Education researcher Megan P. Miller from Longwood University explains how with widespread corporate tests, the curriculum provided by the corporations dominates, resulting in separate individual curriculum to become disadvantaged (24-27). Where individual curriculum had once been an advantage in meeting the demands and needs of individual learning communities, corporations give an unfair advantage to those who use their marketed curriculum. An example of this can be found in a report by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, who found that some passages found in Pearson textbooks were on the Pearson-designed statewide test (1). This shows that corporations focus on earning profit at the expense of student learning by disadvantaging students who do use their materials, which contradicts the equal opportunities they state their tests provide. These private for-profit corporations continue to negatively affect student education through the marketization of standardized testing.
Commercialized standardized testing has become a global marketing tool for private for-profit corporations. Overall, the values of education can be directed back toward the intent of student welfare rather than unethical profit-making. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, recommends new government policies can be made to regulate private for-profit corporations and develop curriculum requirements in order to lessen their market control over them (18). Corporations should be transparent and share information regarding their marketing methods in education to diminish the possibilities of exploitation. Additionally, corporate control on standardized testing could be reduced by measuring students based on the academic skills they have learned rather than just solely on test scores by test providing companies (Moses and Nanna 67). In doing so, education in society can become less commercialized and less susceptible to corporate exploitation, focusing solely on the education students.
- Hachtmann, Frauke. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska -Lincoln InternationalAdvertising Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy. 2014.
- In the Public Interest. “Maine – In the Public Interest.” In the Public Interest, 2015, https://www.inthepublicinterest.org/maine/.
- Lee, Jaekyung, and Yin Wu. “Is the Common Core Racing America to the Top? Tracking Changes in State Standards, School Practices, and Student Achievement.” Education Policy Analysis Archives, vol. 25, no. 0, 2017, p. 35, epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/2834/1896.
- Miller, Megan. A TEXTBOOK CASE: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN TEXTBOOKS, STANDARDIZED TESTING, AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT. 20 July 2015, https://digitalcommons.longwood.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1128&context=etd.
- Moses, Michele S., and Michael J. Nanna. “The Testing Culture and the Persistence of High Stakes Testing Reforms.” Education and Culture, vol. 23, no. 1, 2007, pp. 55–72, 10.1353/eac.2007.0010.
- Myers, Sarah. “The Ethics of Spending to Increase Standardized Testing Outcomes.” Seven Pillars Institute Moral Cents, vol. 5, no. 1, 2015, sevenpillarsinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-Ethics-of-Spending-to-Increase-Standardized-Testing-Outcomes-EDITED-1.pdf.
- Pearson. “Literacy Programs | Pearson | Scott Foresman Reading Street – Common Core.” Pearsonschool.Com, 2020, www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PS186j.
- Peterson, Marshalita S. “The Ethical Dilemmas of High-Stakes Testing and Issues for Teacher Preparation Programs.” Journal of College and Character, vol. 6, no. 7, 1 Jan. 2005, doi: 10.2202/1940-1639.1484.
- Porfilio, Brad, and Tian Yu. “‘Student as Consumer’: A Critical Narrative of the Commercialization of Teacher Education.” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, 6 Aug. 2014. ISSN, www.jceps.com/archives/510.
- Schrum, Lynne. “Education and Commercialization: Raising Awareness and Making Wise Decisions – CITE Journal.” Citejournal.Org, vol. 2, no. 2, 2016, www.citejournal.org/volume-2/issue-2-02/social-studies/education-and-commercialization-raising-awareness-and-making-wise-decisions/.
- Singh, Kishore. “Protecting the Right to Education Against Commercialization, Report of the UN Special Rapporteur.” Right to Education Initiative, 10 July 2015, www.right-to-education.org/resource/protecting-right-education-against-commercialization-report-un-special-rapporteur.
- The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “Pearson’s History of Testing Problems | FairTest.” Fairtest.Org, 2014, www.fairtest.org/pearsons-history-testing-problems.