It’s Just Business: Corporations in Schools

There is no shortage of examples of ways in which corporations have partnered with education over the years to offer financial support.  Coca-cola, Crayola, Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Addidas…the list goes on and on.  Financial support is something that, in this day and age, schools cannot afford to turn away.  Government funding for public education has been dismally low ever since the recession and as is evidenced in the recent decision by the Sask Party government to renege on their earlier funding promise.  School districts are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to funding, especially in the United States.  In many districts, funding is granted due to performance of the school or district in question on various academic and standardized tests.  This makes great business sense for companies because they are able to build community relationships, while also garnering support from partnerships.  In Calgary Public schools for example, the Board of Education is entertaining the possibility of more corporate involvement in their system.  The truth is that corporations want to be involved in public education but they also want some recognition.  The important consideration becomes whether the corporate involvement in schools is actually providing enhanced learning for students.  In many instances this decision may come down to a trade off of funding or support for corporations in exchange for some advertising exposure for students.  So what is it that corporations want in partnerships with public education?

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This depends on the individual situation.  There are legitimate companies who truly want to bring educational improvements to the classroom but it is a rare occurrence to find situations in which funding or support is given without any expectancy of return.  The returns wanted from these companies vary but they can prove to be detrimental to the learning happening at the classroom level.  One of the biggest negatives in these situations is the possibility of creating ‘haves and have nots.’  For example, if Coca-Cola is going to provide funding for a new school gymnasium, they will want their name to be associated with a successful school.  Therefore, schools who already have success in academics or athletics will probably unfairly attract corporate sponsors.  This leads to a disparity in school districts and the further alienation of at risk students.  Another problem arises from the advertisements and marketing geared toward students.  In one instance, M and M’s produces a primary level math text book that teaches students to count using their candy.  McDonald’s sponsors the Go-Active Fitness Challenge which, to me seems quite ironic.  Unless the goal of the challenge is to work off the calories from your latest Big Mac.  These kinds of programs encourage consumerism among students.  The strategy is called Trojan-Horse Marketing and it gives companies access to one of the biggest untapped markets of future buyers.

M-M-Counting-Pattern-Cards

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Many parents are worried about the public schools having these types of business relationships because of the potential impacts on kids.  In this documentary called Corporations in the Classroom, teachers and administrators both share differing views on the role of businesses in the community.  Some in the education community feel as though having corporate sponsors is a necessary evil in order to be able to fund the programs and learning experiences that truly inspire students.  On the other hand, some feel that although companies should feel a responsibility to schools and communities, support should come without strings attached.

The other issue in corporate involvement becomes apparent when corporate educational partners have a vested interest in testing.  Pearson has become a hot button issue with many educators due to their involvement in virtually all aspects of our education system in Canada.  The standardized tests are often written and provided by companies like Pearson, who also provide textbooks and learning resources for schools.  In these instances, especially in the US, standardized test scores are linked to government funding.  Therefore, once again, the schools from higher socio-economic areas will tend to score higher on these tests thereby resulting in more funding.  The No Child Left Behind policy resulted in increased testing for students with funding linked to success on these tests.  Dean Shareski would certainly argue that the Pearson example in Canada is an extreme one and that the majority of corporations involved with schools are invested in improving education and enhancing learning.  As he stated during the debate on Tuesday, “it is naive for educators and school divisions to think that we can do this on our own.”  I think it is a telling sign of where public education ranks on the list of societies’ priorities in this day and age.  If a little bit of extra advertising is what we are concerned about, the question should be asked, how much advertising are our students exposed to on a daily basis?

Is it really so bad that we have corporations vying for a spot at the table of learning?  It seems as though the balance must always be struck but the key question has to be are we putting students first?  That’s the bottom line.  Every monetary decision must be framed in this way.  Are we doing a disservice to students or are we enhancing the learning that is happening in the classroom?  Once we lose sight of students best interests, it may be too late and the soul of education will already be gone.  Have we gone too far?

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12 thoughts on “It’s Just Business: Corporations in Schools

  1. Great post Luke. I think you’ve hit many key points here. It’s an unfortunate reality that many sponsorships look for high achieving schools… But this may be something that could change as the funding patterns continue to shift as they are in schools in Sask.

    I enjoyed this post a lot. Well done!

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  4. Really great reflection, Luke! You bring up a lot of examples I had never even thought of before (M and Ms textbook, and that very ironic challenge from McDonalds), which just goes to show how ingrained these corporations can be in our educational system. I also really appreciated the infographic you included in your post. It clearly identified some of the main aspects of this argument, but in a way that I find students could also read and understand. Perhaps might be something of value to speak to one day in class. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Awesome post, I think when it comes to partnerships my eyes have been opened. You made great points about how company’s select successful school all while marketing to children.

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  6. A lot of great points here. I appreciate how you conclude with the point about having to ask whether decisions are made with students best interests in mind. I agree that this always needs to be asked and am not sure that it always is.

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  8. Great post! You pose a very interesting question, if we are concerned with advertising what about all of the advertising that children/students are exposed to everyday? Perhaps that’s the argument for creating engaged, literate, digital citizens that have the skills to think about the choices that they make and find the best one.

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  9. Oh man, Luke, so many of the parts of that post made my skin crawl. The sponsored lunches, the M&M counting book, just gives me the willies. But I did appreciate that you pointed out what Dean said, about Pearson being an extreme example. From Pearson’s perspective, though, I would suspect that they would view themselves as being a very successful example. They’ve done exactly what they’ve set out to do, in becoming a dominant force in education. There are certainly good-hearted companies with good intentions, but they certainly aren’t the majority. The majority of corporate involvement in schools is a small number of large corporations building brands. And it’s not new. In posting this, I was reminded of the Wheat Pool Superheroes:

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