One of the aspects that I have enjoyed most about my first Graduate class is the ability to learn from experts about situations I may not have been aware of. Before this class, all I knew of Pearson was that they sold the textbooks that we used. Furthermore, all I knew about corporate sponsorships in schools was that here at LeBoldus, Pepsi helped pay for our scoreboard and therefore we only sell Pepsi products in the school. However, after listening to a very informative debate from Tyler, Justine, and Dean, as well as the accompanying readings and videos, I am shocked at the amount of influence corporations have in our schools. Especially in the United States, Pearson is so much more than just a textbook manufacturer and their influence could have damning results. My question is, is there any way to improve these business relationships and can schools survive in their current form without business involvement. Let’s investigate.
Wait a second, the person evaluating my teaching performance is someone I’ve never met???
I still cannot believe the story from Alan Singer, who discussed the Teaching Performance Assessment. In the United States, Pearson agents administer this assessment to new and prospective teachers, which are then used to hand out certification or determine teacher pay. Further evaluation of this assessment led to the discovery that four of the five states used for the assessment were notorious anti-union states, where “teachers have virtually no job security or union protection.” Clearly, Pearson was very clever (shrewd?) in its choice of locations. Singer also points out that there is no connection “between the evaluation system and improved student learning.” Thankfully, not everyone is accepting this new procedure. Teachers in Massachusetts launched a national campaign against the assessment, stating “that the field supervisors and cooperating teachers who guided their teaching practice and observed and evaluated them for six months in middle and high school classrooms were better equipped to judge their teaching skills and potential than people who had never seen nor spoken with them.” Thankfully, this practice has not yet made it to Canadian soil, but it is certainly something we need to be mindful of. When we empower companies and entrust them with evaluations of our teachers, they are not doing so with the student’s best interests in mind. Rather, they are thinking about their own bottom line and how to improve profit margins. Alex Molnar states in perfectly, “it is now time for policymakers to take a more critical look at the purpose and impact of many types of corporate-school relationships and to decide what form of oversight is necessary to ensure that public schools continue as an expression of democratic values rather than corporate interests.” Therefore, we need to ensure that if we are creating relationships with corporations in a school setting, that the schools maintain control so disasters such as this Teaching Performance Assessment can be avoided.
Given that I admittedly was not as educated on this subject as others, I sought out the blogs of some of my colleagues for their perspective on the subject. Tyler sums up the concerns about corporations in the school when he states, “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.” Kelsie concludes her blog post with some fears of the future when she states, “To end, I believe that public schools have not yet sold their souls to corporations. As long as teachers are around to discuss and demand transparency and alternative (maybe even transformational?) choices, I don’t believe public schools will sell their souls just yet. However, I can see a future where this has occurred and to me, it is a scary one.” Finally, Danielle has a different perspective, as she discusses the free promotional items she has received from companies and how she has used them in the classroom when she states, “Would I say that having access to these items has enabled me to be a better teacher on the salary and funding that I have been granted? Most definitely. Have I sold out my students in what amounts to a Faustian bargain? I’m not convinced that I have.” These are three different and informative views from three well-educated people and they have helped form my opinions on the subject matter.
Microsoft Investing the Right Way
Thankfully, not every company appears to be investing in the same cynical nature as others. Judah Schiller discusses Microsoft’s recent plan in the United States, where the “company recently shifted all of its corporate citizenship efforts toward closing what it characterizes as the opportunity divide—a chasm that separates those who prosper in our society from those who don’t.” Furthermore, “As a partner, Microsoft does a lot more than give us dollars,” Everlove says. “They really get into the community, roll up their sleeves and help address education problems that are easy for them to solve, but huge for schools to achieve.” This type of company/school integration is heart-warming to see and provides hope that these types of relationships can be beneficial for both sides.
It is integral that schools can continue to foster these types of relationships with local businesses. Because as school budgets and funding decrease from our provincial government, schools must adapt in order to survive.
The final aspect of corporate involvement in schools is reserved for any teacher’s least two favourite words standardized tests. While these tests have been a constant for many years, teachers still loathe them, due to the fact that they are not deemed helpful in any way and often the tests do not match the outcomes being taught from the curriculum. The pressure to write these tests often comes from superintendents or government ministers, who want numerical proof about the achievements of students and how they relate to the city/province/country.
The problem with standardized tests, however is that the students never feel any attachment to these tests and usually put forth a minimal effort.
John Oliver explains perfectly (as he often does) the issues with these tests when he states “if standardized tests are bad for teachers, and they’re bad for kids, who exactly are they good for?” Oliver goes on to state that the people benefitting from standardized tests, are our old friends at Pearson who control over 40% of the testing market and “have a shocking amount of influence over America’s schools.” In order to free ourselves from Pearson’s grip and from standardized tests, we need the government minister’s who want to compare scores to instead look to gain insight from the classroom teacher, who can tell you precisely the strengths and weaknesses of our students without a Scantron test.
I hope you enjoyed reading the article as much as I enjoyed writing it and I look forward to hearing your comments.