Can Pearson Salvage its Reputation as an Education Funder?

After closing its scandal-plagued foundation late last year, Pearson Education’s giving has been on the QT. But it's definitely still in the funding game. For example, Pearson recently lent support to Project Literacy and more recently has joined with America’s Promise Alliance for a program to raise U.S. high school graduation rates to 90 percent and prepare more young people for the workplace.

Under this new collaboration with America’s Promise Alliance, Pearson will fund three grants worth $200,000 each for a total of $600,000. The grants will be awarded to state organizations that can positively impact students on the pathway to high school graduation by supporting public-private-nonprofit collaboration, leveraging state resources, and developing programs that can be replicated in other states. This is a three-year collaboration between Pearson and America’s Promise Alliance to raise national high school graduation rates to 90 percent and prepare more high school graduates with the skills necessary for success in college and the workplace.

A 2013 report from America’s Promise Alliance, “Building a Grad Nation,” found that national high school graduation rates reached a high of 81 percent, but that progress varied at the state level, with rates ranging from 69 percent to 89.7 percent. The report also found that many states graduate lower percentages of low-income students, disabled students, and students of color.

A panel of judges will select the organizations to receive the three $200,000 grants funded by Pearson. The deadline to receive applications is July 31, 2015. More information about the GradNation State Activation Initiative of America’s Promise is available here.

For Pearson, this appears to suggest a new approach to education philanthropy following the closing of its troubled foundation. Since then, the education publishing and testing firm directed its corporate responsibility division to make grants that more closely link giving with its expertise. Past funding activities by Pearson were found to benefit its for-profit activities. A probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman determined that the Pearson Foundation had violated state laws by generating business for the company. Pearson neither admitted nor denied the charges, but agreed in 2013 to pay a $7.7 million out-of-court settlement.

In September 2014, California Public Radio reported on emails that suggested complicity among Los Angeles school officials, Pearson, Apple, and others to circumvent the bidding process related to the L.A. school district’s iPad debacle.

Clearly, Pearson has a lot of work to do to rebuild its reputation. Let’s hope this new collaboration around high school graduation rates is a step in the right direction.