Corporate Interests…Are The Devil?!?!


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On June 14th Tyler and I had the pleasure to debate against Dean Shareski.  Dean is a Community Manager for Discovery Education.  Going into the debate I was excited and a little bit nervous since Dean has so much experience as an educator and understands of the business side of education with his experience working for Discovery Education.  The debate was a lot of fun and I learned so much from listening to Dean perspectives!  The debate topic for this week was:

Public education has sold its soul to corporate interests in what amounts to a Faustian bargain.

Has public education sold its soul to corporate interests? Are corporate interests the devil?  Going into the debate I was  unsure about this topic since this topic has not been discussed it in previous classes that I have taken.  Tyler and I were faced with the task to present facts found from videos and readings to showcase our learning for the agree side of the debate.   It was very interesting reading through the different articles and watching videos on this topic.  As a teacher I feel very removed from this topic since teachers do not make the decisions about budget or what relationships their division should make with the different companies and professionals. This opened my eyes to a whole different side of education!

We came across an article written by Alex Molnar called Corporate Involvement In Schools: Time For A More Critical Look Even the title for this article drew me in because I was looking forward to look critically at this topic.  In our presentation we explained and stated how Corporate Involvement in education has been happening for years in different ways such as:

  • Exclusive Agreements such as the Pepsi and Coca-Cola. In 1997 a school district signed a 10 year exclusive vending agreement potentially worth $8 million with Coca-Cola.  In 1998 Pepsi donated 2 million to build a school football stadium- in exchange for exclusive rights to sell soft drinks in all 140 district schools and to advertise in school gymnasiums and athletic fields. That deal is estimated to earn the company $7.3 million over seven years.
  • Incentive Programs such as the Pizza Hut “Book It” reading incentive program.
  • Sponsorship of Programs & Activities such as Duracell Invention Challenge and Milk sponsorship in Athletic Activities SHSAA.
  • Fundraising– Alex Molanr discusses how fundraising appears to be the most wide spread commercial activity.
  • Appropriation of Space such as allocating school space to advertise.

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Photo Credit: Our Video Edit From PowToon

For school divisions and schools making partnerships with companies can lead to many positives for both sides.  Many times for programs to happen or for major projects to be completed schools need financial support from companies; therefore, they form and sign agreements to help them reach their goal.  The companies do help, but these agreements that are signed after they make donations allow them to make a huge amount of money in the end.  In the article How Corporations Are Helping To Solve the Education Crisis it shows the other side to this debate topic.   It discussed how corporations are trying to play a new role going beyond just providing money to schools.  When I was reading the article it caught my eye when it stated that “Education is key to keeping kids confident and America competitive. There is a clear business case for solving this crisis, which is why education is fast becoming a front and center issue for talent-hungry corporations, many of whom view the problem as an opportunity.”  I hope there are many corporations who believe in helping to support education and students in a positive way other than just making donations.

When I got home after the debate that evening from school I noticed a tweet about an article written in the StarPhonenix entitled “Salary increase for teacher not fully funded by province.”  At the beginning of the article it stated:

The 1.9 per cent increase recently negotiated by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation works out to about $18 million, but the province is only going to pay about $9 million and is asking school divisions to look for savings to make up the difference.

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Now that divisions have to make up the difference I wonder how many more partnerships with companies will need to occur?  In the article The Business of American Business Is Education “From goalscorporate donations to workplace restrictions, what’s taught in the classroom has always been influenced by American industry.”   At the beginning of the article it discussed “If you ask American leaders about the overall goal of the nation’s education system, you’d likely get a broad set of answers: to prepare young people for the workforce; to close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps; to create informed citizens ready to participate in popular democracy.”  I think in Saskatchewan if you asked people what the goals were for education you would get a mixed response as well.  The goals of education for Saskatchewan have not been updated since 1985.  I was not even born yet!  On the document it stated that it was “reaffirmed in Actualization of Core Curriculum” in 1999, but that was still seventeen years ago.  I think that we need to look at our goals again to make sure those goals are still our beliefs.  Some of the areas maybe need to be reworded or expanded on while we may need to add to our goals since we are now living in the twenty-first century.

What do you think the overall goal of education should be?

Tyler and I also explored in our debate how many school divisions have “critical friends” with professionals who are sponsored by or spokes people for specific companies.  Often these professional have amazing ideas and have presented many wonderful resources that can be used to help with planning and in areas that educators need more support in.  Personally I have enjoyed listening to many of the professionals that our division has brought in to help support us.  This year I was able to hear Sue Jackson speak a few times about guided reading, reading strategies and guided writing.  I liked many of her ideas about shared and modeled reading and writing, but all of the resources she presented to us were Scholastic resources because she works for that company.  Tyler explained very well in his blog how many teachers feeling about this area:

Yes, [the resources are] very good but sometimes it feels that we are pressured into using “their” resources in order for us to have success.  Many teachers also feel pressure to abide by these “new” ideas because the division has told them to.  It is hard for many teachers to fully implement these ideas because they had little to no input into what new ideas they wanted to learn abut.  More and more teachers are feeling disconnected from the division personnel because they fell they do not understand the issues teachers are facing in the “trenches.”

Maintaining healthy relationships with everyone is critical to education.  Dean discussed the importance of relationships and explained that the company he is employed with, Discovery Education,  works very hard to develop a close relationship with schools and works towards developing shared understandings.  He gave a quote from the CEO of Discovery Education that he tells to his staff internally- “We do good by doing good.”  He went to explain that what his CEO is meaning by that is “the financial will follow if we do right by children.”  That is excellent to hear that their are companies who value the relationships with school divisions and care about our students, but there are many companies who do not share similar philosophies.  When Tyler and I began to look at Pearson Education I was shocked to learn about this company and read who they are as a company.  In an article I learned that Pearson Education even has its hands in teacher certification in New York State and has developed a Teacher Performance assessment by collaborating with Stanford University.  I am very thankful companies like this are not sending out agents to evaluate my teaching. It was great to hear Audrey Watters speak in class and I though she raised excellent questions in her post when she talked about ed-tech, corporate interests and testing.  She stated:

We can’t talk about corporate interests and ed-tech without talking about testing. We can’t talk about corporate interests and ed-tech without talking about politics and policies. Why do we test? Why do we measure? Why has this become big business? Why has this become the cornerstone of education policy?

I thought she did an excellent job showcasing how so many areas in education are linked and connected together.

Photo Credit: Source

245_pearson_educationThis video below showcases the amount of money that Pearson makes from students in the United States through standardized testing.  I was very surprised that how many standardized tests students in the United States needs to take.  In the video it discussed how to amount of assessments have increased over the years in many states.  I could relate to Carter’s opinions in his blog post as it was a huge eye opener for me as well when I learned how Pearson has been profiting from students failures through students having to retake those standardized tests.  Just thinking about Pearson profiting from students failures really gets my blood pumping.  Does that sound like the “We do good by doing good” motto that Discovery Education believes in?

Absolutely not!

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver even discussed on his show one evening about Standardized Testing.  I encourage you to check out this video too!  It further examines how Pearson is involved in the implementation of standardized testing.  I do want to give you a heads up that he uses some explicit language and offensive humor to help him get his point across about the negative side of standardized testing.   If I was a student who had to complete all of these tests  I would be have been very anxious.  Now there is even a protocol to follow when someone vomits on his or her test booklet.  You know there are problems with an assessment that needs to have this type of protocol set in place.  These assessments are hindering students health and are putting an enormous amount of pressure on the students and teachers.  This leads back to the question…what are the goals in education?  In my mind this amount and types of different standardized tests do not match any of the goals that I would want to see in education.

Logan’s blog post stood out to me when he was asking about where the line was and what the balance is.  Even though I was on the agree side for the debate I personally don’t fully agree that public education has sold its soul to corporate interests completely. Near the beginning of this post I mentioned how school divisions will have to find room in the budget to pay teacher’s salaries since the government is only paying for some of it.  The contract is a binding agreement so each school division is going to make adjustments in order to pay teachers increase.  Will there need to be cuts to staffing or programing?  What stays and went goes?  Will forming relationships with corporations and companies help support education and the lack of funding that education in Saskatchewan is currently undergoing?  As Andres mentioned in his post “education is a mind-bogglingly large market, NOT taping into it would be absurd, which is why I agree that we’ve definitely sold our souls to corporate interests.”  I could relate to his perspective that in many ways we have to.  There are lots of the partnerships that are helping fund major projects and much needed renovations.  Andres discussed that “we can’t be blindsided by these things along” because “They have a lot of money to spare, and truthfully speaking, they’re not only building a business relationship with school districts, but they are also creating new clients with the students.”  I want to believe that companies want to put student’s learning and growth first, but lets be honest…I think they are looking out for the future of their company and making sure they are making a profit.

This debate topic has truly pushed me to look at a different side of education that I have never really thought about before.  I am still left with more questions than answers, but now I will be paying closer attention to education and corporate interest!


Photo Credit: Dust To Ashes via Compfight cc


  1. I think you’ve made a very valid point in that SK education goals need to be revisited. We are not teaching in the same world as we were in 1985. If our goals are updated to be relevant, maybe more meaningful conversations can be had with these “critical friends”.


  2. I’d also add that maybe these “critical friends” are really frenemies. I think we need to consider this topic because teachers are increasingly scapegoated in recent budget discussions. Thanks for capturing the important points of this ongoing discussion!


  3. Pingback: Debate #7: Go on, pack me up, I’m sold! – MsASwift

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