This past weeks debate was about corporations being involved in education. As teachers we all know it takes money to teach students. The pressure to have resources to teach is incredible. Teachers often invest their own money on: learning resources, self regulation tool, and rewards. Many people believe that teachers should be reimbursed for the money they put in or that teachers should not be spending their own money on these things. If we look at the Saskatchewan budget we see that there is no extra money in the budget to help teachers with resources. Let alone even to pay their agreed upon wages. So corporations have offered a helping hand. For example Coke made a deal with a school, “Coca-Cola paid the district $4 million upfront and an additional $350,000 a year to sell its beverages in schools. The annual payments have funded field trips, gym uniforms, SMART Boards and other frills that individual school budgets may not otherwise have afforded.”
As great as the funding is to be able to afford smart boards, field trips, gym uniforms, etc. Is it worth exposing students to more advertising of unhealthy foods? Coke saw the benefit of being able to sell its beverages for 10 years!
So if we look at this deal on the surface it seems pretty good. Both goals of education and corporations are being met. Steve points out “The goals of education are student learning and success, through a variety of means and factors. The goals of a corporation are, by definition, profit.” Schools are getting funding for student learning and success while large corporations like Coke are getting profits from the sales of goods in schools.
But how far can corporations take this?
I think Pearson has an outright monopoly in some cases over things like standardized test. Standardized tests are used in schools to collect data. Data that drives where money is distributed and to compare one school to another. So Pearson decided develop a test to ensure students are at grade level in grade 3. This is helpful for division offices so they can see where each of there schools are at and compare. But, Pearson gets paid for each student that takes the test. Throughout the years they have made up more and more tests and continually get paid.
This leads me to think that Pearson is now making decisions on what education is important for students to know. If funding and supports are based off of test scores Pearson really gets to decide what knowledge is important. Do we really want some corporation deciding what youth learn? Are we giving corporations too much control? Or is this our only option with the government cutting budgets?
This week was by far the toughest debate topic for me to wrap my head around. Maybe it’s because my head was in the sand with regards to this topic prior to the debate. Before the debate I hadn’t really given that much thought to the role that corporations play in our schools. Obviously I know they are involved as we use their textbooks and resources on a daily basis. But I hadn’t really thought about what they are gaining from having their materials in our schools. I know how businesses work and I know that they are getting richer anytime we buy resources from them but I have never given it much thought beyond this.
I found myself reading a lot of blogs this week because I wasn’t quite sure which side I agreed with. Just like Erin, I feel that if schools want to have resources and funding that sometimes we might have to go beyond what the government is giving us. Let’s be honest, in recent years education hasn’t exactly received any huge payouts by the government so it would be helpful if we could look to the private sectors to help out. However, that being said we need to be mindful of the reasons why corporations want to be involved because most of the time it is to benefit themselves in some way. Kelsie did a great job of discussing this in her last post. We need to consider the reasons corporations want to be involved with education and ask ourselves the why questions.
In our chat on Tuesday we brought up the idea of companies funding schools or providing bursary’s where students receiving funding would have to agree to give back to the company by working for them for an agreed term. My friend was given a scholarship from Shoppers Drug Mart in while she was in pharmacy at the U of S and part of her getting the scholarship meant she had to agree to work with Shoppers at a location in a smaller city in Saskatchewan for two years after completing school. I think this is a fair way for them to help out. She was given help in paying for her school and in return she provided them with work for two years. After the two years were up she was able to leave and work wherever she wanted. Not a bad deal, but I know that’s not always the way things work.
One thing that really struck me while reading and thinking back to the debate and chat was the idea that education is thought of as a business. Typically most businesses make money, in terms of education, that just isn’t the case. Schools don’t make money. We spend money. We spend money on resources and teachers to provide an education to students who we hope will become contributing members of society. The money is spent on investing in the future through these students. It seems as though the government is always looking at ways to cut spending and save money in education. I agree that there are probably areas that we can save money like transportation, printing and supervision but in my mind, if we cut back in those areas in order to save, that money should be put towards other areas. I feel like if we do cut back that they will just continue us to cutback in all areas rather than taking the money and using it for educational assistants or more support staff.
In terms Pearson and everything I learned about that corporation this week, I don’t know what to think. First off, I didn’t realize they were a British company (I had assumed Canadian). I also didn’t realize that they create so many of the standardized tests for the United States. I thought that we had a pretty large number of standardized tests here in Canada but I was amazed to hear how many some states have. My problem with these tests is that they are all the same. There is no adaptations for anyone and I believe them to be biased in many ways. At my school we find that they can be culturally biased so students who have come from other countries struggle to answer the questions properly. We have to question what the goals of the standardized tests are. Are they really helping students? Is the data helping teachers see student weaknesses? Are students taking the tests seriously (insert student groans and eye rolls here)? We mentioned in class that teachers have a good idea of where their students stand academically without the tests, so does it make sense to have them? I know the standardized part of it plays a big role in government decisions and statistics because all students are scored using the same evaluation and test. I don’t teach any classes that involve standardized tests so I can’t comment much more on them but John Oliver always does a great job of shedding light on a controversial topic in a humorous way and he does just that in this video about standardized tests.
The last thing I wanted to comment on is the idea of evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores. There are so many ways this could go wrong. You could have the teacher that teaches ONLY what is on the test and leaves out anything else in the curriculum missing valuable material. You could have a dishonest teacher hint towards answers or give answers to students to increase scores. What about when students find out that teachers are being paid and evaluated based on the test scores? If they don’t like you, will they purposely answer incorrectly? These are all things that we have to take into consideration and I don’t believe that we should pay teachers based on these scores. There are far too many things that could go wrong if this happens. Teachers should be evaluated by superintendents or school administration who are able to observe the teacher teach on a number of occasions.
I think I just rambled on and on and I’m not sure I made much sense, but I’m not sure I fully understand all the details in order to provide a strong response. It’s a different look at education involving politics and business which I’m not well versed in. I hope I was at least able to give you something to think about.
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?
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.
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?