Corporate Involvement in Education: Where is the Neutrality?
At a time when corporate influence in the lives of children is at an all-time high, especially in terms of advertising and marketing, private firms are looking to make headway in the K-12 education sector in the form of private management and curriculum content.
A large number of American public schools are already endorsing corporate-influenced environments. Business is already involved in many aspects of public education in the United States—from exclusive contracts with soft drink companies for the right to fill the vending machines with their products, to schools’ endorsement of student contests run by businesses and corporations.
Now, a number of private firms are looking to make more headway into the actual administration of public schools and the structuring of curriculum. The companies that are outsourced to complete these tasks are known as education management organizations, or EMOs. Once a contract with an EMO is signed, they are handed over executive authority of the district, as well as a fee that comes from revenue generated, in return for agreeing to obtain certain results in a given amount of time. The number of these for-profit organizations has grown steadily since the early 1990s: currently, nearly a quarter of a million students in the U.S. attend schools that are under EMO administration.
The private firms interested in investing in public schools suggest that by outsourcing the teaching of certain courses to private companies, turning the administration of the school district over to a private company, or by using software that replaces staff for parts of the day, struggling schools can increase efficiency and drive down costs while improving test scores.
However, studies have failed to show that students enrolled in schools controlled by EMOs perform better than those enrolled in non-EMO schools. In fact, in many cases the students in schools under EMO management performed worse than those who weren’t attending a privately administered school.
While it is good for schools to increase cost efficiency, this plan to hand over the management of school districts raises the question: considering that the primary function of a school is to educate students and the purpose of any business is to make a profit, can we be sure that these two goals can be reconciled and work together to bring about the right results?
In addition to this, inviting corporations to structure educational content for schools creates a threat to neutrality in education. If a corporation sponsors educational content, how can we ensure that said content is not slated in favor of the corporation’s worldview?
Another area of education that is permeated by corporatization is the higher education sector: it is not uncommon for university presidents to sit on several corporate boards. For example, Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University, sat on the board of Goldman Sachs and left the company in 2010 with $4.3 million in stock worth.
Given these obvious links between corporatization and education—and recent efforts to further strengthen the relationship between the two—neutrality in education may be increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
Amanda Fox-Rouch is a reporter for Campus Progress.