Top Adviser to Pearson, Michael Barber, to Leave Company

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Michael Barber, a top adviser at Pearson who has called for judging the company’s work on the “efficacy” of its products, will leave the behemoth education corporation next year.

Barber, who once served as a high-ranking aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will step down from his post as chief education adviser at the company in late 2017, according to a statement from Pearson.

Not long after joining Pearson five years ago, Barber said he would help the company focus on “efficacy,” basically meaning setting more specific goals of various products and their outcomes, and reporting on them publicly. The company’s ambitions were laid out in a pair of reports—described in a Marketplace K-12 post from 2013—called “Asking More: The Path to Efficacy,” and “The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes.”

During his time in government and the years that followed, Barber has drawn both credit and criticism for his views on education, including a focus on test-based accountability and strong standards in teaching and other areas.

Pearson is a frequent target of critics in the United States, who see it as the embodiment of corporations profiting off of schools’ reliance on high-stakes testing, curriculum, and educational technology. It’s probably safe to assume that judgments about the success of Barber’s and Pearson’s work on efficacy will break down in a similarly polarized way.

But Pearson officials, in an e-mail to Marketplace K-12, said that efficacy standards have been baked into the company’s approaches to mergers and acquisitions and its investments across its products. Barber’s work also has helped “revolutionize” the company’s research and development, Pearson said.

Over the past five years, the worldwide corporation’s focus on efficacy and research has “grown from a framework and an initiative to a core operating principle and practice at Pearson,” the company argued. Pearson also said it is keeping its pledge to use efficacy to publicly report on its products, and is putting those results online.

Pearson officials boasted that “we are the only education company committed to efficacy at such scale and depth.”

Barber has played a lead role in helping shape Pearson’s work in the developing world through the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, the company said. The fund makes equity investments in for-profit companies to support education in under-developed nations. The company says the fund was created with $15 million of Pearson capital; last year, Pearson said it would invest $50 million in the program over the next three years.

Barber’s announcement that he’s leaving Pearson many months ahead of his actual departure is being made so that the efficacy work can be shifted to the company’s Global Product group, led by Tim Bozik.

“Michael has brought to Pearson innovative and rigorous thinking on education technology, the future of assessment and teaching, and low-cost education in the developing world, among other topics,” said John Fallon, the company’s CEO, in a statement. He “helped put efficacy and the science of improving learning outcomes at the heart of everything Pearson does.”

This post has been updated with a link to Pearson’s public reports on the efficacy of its products.

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