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Acquisition News in the World of Common Standards, Tests

Some players in the common-standards-and-assessments arena—folks you've been reading about here—have announced a business deal. Pearson PLC, the London-based education company, has agreed to buy America's Choice for $80 million.

The agreement was announced yesterday. It still has to clear a federal antitrust review, but officials at the two companies say they expect it to close in about a month.

You might recall that America's Choice was launched by the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington-based nonprofit school reform group, to implement the school improvement model it had developed. That model features standards-based instructional materials, coaching and professional development for teachers, and catch-up programs for struggling students. America's Choice became a for-profit subsidiary of the NCEE in 2004.

The NCEE was involved in an ill-fated attempt to write national standards years ago, and also got wide notice for its 2006 report, "Tough Choices or Tough Times," which laid out a sweeping vision of school reform.

Did you think we were going to lose the common-standards-and-assessments thread? Nope. Hang on. NCEE is the organizer of one of the three groups of states applying for $350 million in federal Race to the Top money to design new assessments. It's the group seeking the $30 million chunk to craft high school board exams. (See our story on the contenders.)

NCEE's president, Marc Tucker, also served on the feedback team for the common standards in English/language arts. And two senior fellows at America's Choice, Phil Daro and Sally Hampton, served, respectively, on the math and ELA work groups that drafted the standards, a point that America's Choice has not been shy about promoting.

What about Pearson, you might ask? If you've been reading this blog, you will recall that Pearson has been exploring the possibility of developing assessments via the Race to the Top assessment initiative. Exactly what its role might be in that work isn't yet clear (at least to me).

Pearson and America's Choice officials said in a prepared statement that Pearson, which has a K-12 education division based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., is "exploring opportunities to bring the America's Choice model to an international market."

Proceeds from the sale will create a $3.6 million-per-year endowment for NCEE. That stream of money will support its work to identify international best practices in key education areas such as school finance, teacher quality, standards, curriculum, and instruction, and to implement the vision it laid out in "Tough Choices."

How will common standards and assessments change the education business landscape, you ask? Keep reading as the answers emerge.

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