Has Public Education Sold Its Soul to Corporate Interests?

Although I’m not a fan of most school-business partnerships, I can see why some speak to the positive outcomes as a result of the relationship. When I close my eyes and think of product placement, and companies striking deals to gain access into our schools I hear children knocking door to door with tubs of ice-cream, boxes of chocolate, vending, and lists of name brand magazines. Thinking back to my own school experiences I remember the issue of product placement within my school as the first vending machine was delivered housed with popular coke products. School Community Councils often jump at the chance to go ahead with these fundraisers because of the return attached to the name brand. Boxes of chocolate, pails of ice cream and stacks of magazines being sold by kids door to door means money for our school. In fact, our school participated in many of these fundraisers this year and just last week we received a much needed volleyball net and jerseys. Without the year of fundraisers, there wasn’t enough money to purchase the net and without the net, the future of our students volleyball season was looking grim. There was a benefit of this relationship but were “our” eyes focused on the return and missing the cost of the investment? It did help our school but is it ethical?

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Many schools are turning towards Google education tools to support classroom learning.  I had never really thought about my division having to subscribe for these tools before this conversation. This is one partnership that I feel benefits my students. The features on Google Read and Write alone have made reading and writing more accessible to students. I have witnessed student gain more independence in a short time of using it. Students who can now focus on learning content without struggling to put their thoughts down on paper. Sure, some may argue this is still selling out to corporations, but in this case my students directly benefit. In my opinion, it’s a partnership that works.

I choose to send Scholastic book orders home with my kids. Did I ever consider it selling my (or perhaps my students) soul to corporate interests? No. I have been so focused on how it can help my struggling readers that perhaps I didn’t look into the flip side as critically as I could have. However, My once bare bookshelves have now been filled with hundreds of good fit books, suited to my readers interests. Studies show how the impact classroom libraries can have on students. In one study “classroom libraries increased reading time by 60%”  When I first started teaching, reading was not as accessible in my classroom in comparison to the selection I can now offer after using Scholastic. Students ordering these books are often reluctant readers that find a book that catches their eyes, motivates them read and suddenly they realize reading is fun. Of course, students don’t have to order but the option is there and many parents have commented that they are glad it’s coming home because it has helped them do more reading at home.  It may be the literacy teacher in me, but Scholastic is a partnership that I don’t feel ashamed of because of the doors it’s opened for my students in making reading accessible in the classroom. Some people feel Scholastic offers more toys than books, (Yes – a downfall) but I don’t feel this has got “in the way” of student reading.

In my eyes, it all comes down to funding and frankly, I find it really disappointing. Schools are struggling to operate with limited resources and therefore often count on school-business partnerships to make ends meet. It isn’t right, but it’s reality. However,  there are many instances that are much more alarming than small fundraisers and Scholastic book orders. Take school testing for instance. Standardized testing has become big business. Testing companies like Pearson lobby to pass laws regarding testing because of the return it provides to their company. The video The Big Business Behind Public School Testing  discusses the problems with companies like Pearson having so much control within schools. Students are failing grades based on test results in some states, and we are all too familiar with stories of using tests as a means of teacher accountability.  It’s difficult to take on these corporations when they have so much power within schools because of funding decisions. How can this one size fits all model that Pearson offers, support learning with so much pressure on the test itself and not growth, learning or student success.

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It was alarming to read in the article Pearson Education -Who Are These People, that Pearson Education would “take over teacher certification in New York State as a way of fulfilling the state’s promised “reforms” in its application for federal Race to the Top money.” If a company like Pearson has this much control over teachers, it’s hard to believe that we haven’t sold our souls to corporate interests! It’s scary to think about. Think about how much money our school division pays to Pearson alone. Do you feel the investment is worth the return? I have a hard time seeing the value in resources designed around test taking. Let’s put this money towards our students in ways where the focus is return on success – not money.

Big corporations trying to sell what to teach and how to teach in their neatly wrapped resources can be deceiving. Teachers preaching about the latest book being sold at their last teacher conference isn’t anything new either. We need to be carefully and think critically about the what resources we use because after-all, they are also just another company trying to make a dime off of the growing business of public education. As teachers, we need to critically analyze how we decide what resources should be used and consider how it impacts student learning.An investment with little return is not something to advocate for being in our schools – but often we see these big investments with little return entering our schools time and time again. It’s big business and because of this, unfortunately, it’s also very political.

I found the debate interesting. The disagree side made the point that “School’s need critical friends”…. This stuck with me. As much as we don’t want to come to terms with it, relationships with partners are going to have to exist. It’s true but we need to choose these partnerships wisely. As Dean discussed during the debate, having to rely on private corporations is a scary thought, but if there is no value, we need to be able to approach our leaders and question why this partnership is happening. Public Education continues to be “Big Business”

How do corporations impact you and your students?


3 thoughts on “Has Public Education Sold Its Soul to Corporate Interests?

  1. Erin Benjamin

    I had almost the exact thoughts regarding scholastic book orders Tayler! I hadn’t thought of this as buying into corporate interest, but it definitely lead me to reflect further. Great post!


  2. Pingback: A Critical Friend Catch 22 – Erin Benjamin's E-Portfolio

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