House Questions $140 Million Education Contract

Let’s see now…. The state Department of Education awarded Pearson Educational Measurement a six-year, $139.9 million contract to develop, score and report Virginia’s Standard of Learning tests — even though a competing proposal by Harcourt Assessments, Inc., would have cost $35 million less. And it turns out that Pearson made scoring errors that resulted in 60 students being told they’d flunked tests they’d actually passed — and that firm had been involved in a legal settlement in Minnesota back in 2000 for scoring errors that had flunked 8,000 students.

There may have been legitimate reasons for hiring Pearson despite these revelations, but the leadership of the House of Delegates is right to want to know what those reasons were. They are understandably concerned after finding out from newspaper reports that the soon-to-retire state school superintendent Jo Lynne DeMary had served on what the House leadership described as an unpaid “advisory council” for Pearson and she characterized as an annual “think tank” session for state and local school officials.

There may be a perfectly legitimate explanation for giving the contract to Pearson. But the House is right to look into the matter. That $35 million differential is a lot of money — even in a budget as inflated as Virginia’s. As House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, put the sum in perspective yesterday, the $5.8 million a year extra paid to Pearson would translate into 150 more teachers across the state.

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch story here.

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  1. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Let’s see if any of the gubernatorial candidates are asked about this and if any of them have anything to say.

    It amazes me that the candidates are rarely asked about real world stuff that a governor has some control over or should have an opinion on, while the press and the bloggers breathlessly follow every pronouncement on hot button issues that rarely cross a governor’s desk.

    I’ll bet if this contract had been issued during a Republican Administration, the press would be all over a Republican Governor and there’d be talk of “cronyism” and “corruption.”

  2. Terry M. Avatar

    I was in the audience during the presentation that opened VDOE up to questions about the RFP award. It was painfully amusing to watch as Neugent and Timberlake got shredded. They kept digging a hole deeper and deeper for themselves.

    What struck me as most interesting, and was never questioned, was the explicit statement that they had the additional $5.8M/year available in their budget already. There was no discussion about what spending priorities they would have change in order to fund the extra cost of the Pearson contract.

    In other words, it must be nice to have that much money sitting around unneeded on a yearly basis.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting…. so the House Republican Caucus is defending $35 million to harcourt. Why doesn’t that surprise me?

    Probably becuase Harcourt is a Texas publishing firm with HEAVY ties to the Bush and Delay folks. Very big national Republican supporters. So in who’s interest are we saying we should go back to the old testing company?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Someone needs to look at who the lobbyists for Pearson are. That will probably answer many questions.

  5. Terry M. Avatar

    Anon 1:55: Surely you don’t mean Kirk Schroder, former president of the Va Board of Education?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    There are no lobbyists registered for Pearson. If Schroder is their rep its not on the Secretary of the Commonwealth website. Ben Dendy (uh, giant massive D) and his VECTRE Corp are working for Harcourt though — working pretty damn hard, methinks. If there were grounds to really challenge this award they’d be heading for court. What’s the old saying about what you do when the law and the facts are against you? These procurement cat fights are seldom pretty.

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