Saturday, June 24, 2006

Teacher Watch--ETS Hydra Adds Another Arm

It's more difficult by the minute to track who owns what, who's bought or partnered with whom in the test and curriculum industry. It's practically migraine-inducing even to try.

Here at "HorseSense" we attempt in our modest way to keep you up to date on some of the key players and their new deals. This isn't simply trivia. It's important for teachers, parents, students and activists to have at least some information about key players in the industries that shape policy and research in education. Under-our-nose acquisitions, partnerships and mergers can make individual corporations seem smokier, less direct, in their lines of accountability to public money. See our coverage of scoring errors in the SAT and California High School Exit Exam (CASEE) earlier this year.

In a new maneuver to aquire a competitive edge in teaching writing through computer assessment, Educational Testing Service (ETS) has teamed up with Great Source, a division of publishing heavyweight Houghton Mifflin. Houghton Mifflin announced in a May 30 press release that its Great Source division will now "market and distribute subscriptions to a co-branded version of ETS’s Criterion Online Writing Evaluation."

"Distribute subscriptions" means selling and managing sales. Co-branding is a partnership marketing strategy between corporations seeking to corner or control a market. According to a term coined by Brandenburger and Nalebuff (1996) this maneuver is called "coopetition." Such connections are not always clearly advertised to the public. (Consider how the connection between Philip Morris and Kraft Foods became camouflaged in 2002 when the parent corporation was re-named Altria Group.)

ETS's Criterion online writing program for grades 4-university will now complement Great Source's Write Source textbooks. According to John Oswald, senior Vice President of ETS Elementary and Secondary Education, "By working together, we can reach more schools with stronger resources that give students the practice they need to become clear, fluent, and effective writers."

And there's more: In a development announced by ETS June 6, Criterion has also partnered with Educere, "a respected provider of virtual education services to K-12 schools."

The ETS announcement of the Educere partnership makes no reference to the new Great Source connection, an announcement reserved for a previous, separate release. In effect, however, we now have an alliance between Criterion, Educere and Write Source--with quite a corporate trail in the wings.