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Are Corporations Corrupting Schools?

Annie Condron

Are Corporations Corrupting Schools?With the opening of “Waiting for Superman,” charter schools backed by big corporations are in the “it program” for ed reform.


Is this really the answer?


The Corporate Charter School Trend

With all the hype associated with the movie, corporations and big-money celebrities are diving into this effort with significant donations for charter schools.

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Corporate & Celebrity Backers

*Bill Gates has been involved  corporate charter movement in “Waiting for Superman” and has been funding schools for years


*Goldman Sachs recently $20 million to Harlem Children Zone (also includes social services for community) Oprah’s Angel network gives $6 million in grants to six charter schools   


*Harlem Children Zone is lauded in the movie and promoted as a shining light among the charter school movement. Thanks to corporate donations, HCZ is able to keep class sizes under 15 students, provide after-school, health care and community programming. 


If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen the commercial:




With all this publicity, some people are questioning how successful this program really is, how important the social programs are compared to the classroom initiatives taking place in Canada’s schools and if it is a program that could be implemented on a larger scale.


Regardless of the criticism, I admire the “cradle to college” program and the level of commitment it shows toward improving the lives of these students and their community. It seems Canada’s heart is in the right place and people are prioritizing students, helping them in any way that they can.


But do public school teachers and schools have to play the villain to this corporately-funded hero?


Corporate Funding Concerns

I don’t think too many people would argue that sufficiently funding schools and reducing class size would benefit education programs, but there are still a tremendous number of questions associated with corporate funding.


What strings are attached to this money?

* If Bill and Melinda Gates fund your school, can you use Macs in your classroom? Probably not.


*Are we opening a door to more marketing in schools?


*What happens when corporate funding runs out? TeachHUB blogger “Classroom Tales from the Bronx” shared that experience as his Gates-funded school reached the end of its funding cycle in Fund ‘Em & Leave ‘Em


* Do you answer to your investors?

               *Who decides how this money is spent – the school or the corporation?
               *Should schools run like a business?  What will increased competition and test-driven curriculum lead to

               in the classroom?


Rick Ayers Review

In a “Waiting for Superman” review, Rick Ayers also airs his concerns regarding the corporate influence in education. He writes:

  • Today that social revolution has been effectively set back. Schools are more segregated today than before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954; nothing is said about that. Black and Brown students are being suspended and expelled, searched and criminalized; not a word. In place of a movement for transforming power relationships in our society, privatizers and corporate managers step up to define the problem -- proposing a revolution that is anything but revolutionary.
  • The film unquestioningly bows down to standardized tests as the measure of student knowledge, school success. Such a testing regime bullies aside deeper learning, authentic assessment, portfolio and project based learning. Yes, deeper learning like this is difficult to measure with simple numbers -- but we can't let the desire for simple numbers simplify the educational project. Extensive research has demonstrated definitively that standardized testing reproduces inequities, marginalizes English Language Learners and those who do not grow up speaking a middle class vernacular, dumbs down the curriculum, and misinform policy. It is the wisdom of the misinformed, accepted against educational evidence and research.  full article

At the end of the day, schools need money and corporations are the ones who have it… well at least, have LOTS of it. If schools are going to team up with corporations, it is important to remember that corporate attitudes are all about the bottom-line.  


It’s up to schools to ensure that the bottom line in corporate-funded schools isn’t arbitrary testing data, but rather students and their greater success in life.


Where do you stand on the corporate sponsorship in schools debate? Share your view in the comments section!