Top 4 Group Influences in Public Education Part III: Businesses

There are many external influences that impact public education. In this series the top four will be reviewed including the influence of professional education organizations, the involvement of parents, the businesses, and the federal government and court systems. For this part the influence of businesses will be discussed to reveal their direct impact on public education.

Since the 1980s, large corporations have formed the vanguard in improving public education, a movement stemming ostensibly from a concern that schools are not graduating students with the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective members of the workforce. This has led to the formation of more than 100,000 business/educational partnerships since 1983, with companies becoming both the strongest supporters and the greatest critics of the educational system. The CEOs of several large corporations, including the giants IBM, Apple, and Coca-Cola, have advocated for educational improvement at the highest levels of government and since the early 1980s have donated millions of dollars to revamp public education.

The Business Roundtable is one example of the corporate world’s attempts to reform education. The Roundtable is an association of CEOs from several major companies who advocate improvements in education that will raise the standards, skills, and knowledge of basic education, to ensure that education will meet the requirements of the burgeoning workforce.

Some have criticized businesses’ intrusion into education, fearing that schools and students may be intentionally molded to meet certain business requirements, while being subjected to the unbridled influence of corporate advertising. Business leaders refute these claims, stating that they are compelled to spend billions of dollars annually on remedial education for their workers, in order to bring their workforce up to standard and to maintain their competitive edge in the world’s markets. They argue that channeling funds into the education system may lessen the need for corrective education later in life. Some opponents of businesses’ involvement in schools point out that the purchasing power of school-age children, estimated to be in the range of $500 billion per year, is the incentive that drives businesses to approach schools by offering gifts of products or services to teachers and students. Others are opposed to the exclusive contracts that some companies, such as Pepsi or Coca-Cola, impose on schools. To receive extra funds from the business provider, schools agree to sell the businesses’ product exclusively, which in effect promotes brand loyalty in young consumers.

Businesses have also influenced education by promoting the privatization of public schools, whereby certain schools are no longer administered by the local school board but are under the management of private enterprise. Some school districts have hired companies, such as Edison Schools or Sylvan Learning, Inc., to administer schools, with the expectation that student grades will improve on assessment measures. Some claim that private corporations can more efficiently and effectively manage school administration, at a lower cost. Opponents of this design, most notably teacher’s associations, claim that the welfare of students, often evidenced by the hiring of inexperienced or nonlicensed teachers, may be secondary to the company’s desire to make a profit. In reality, the privatization movement has led to smaller teacher–student ratios and to greater access to various materials and devices, although definitive results about improvement in academic achievement remain unproven.
Businesses influence what occurs in the classroom, in ways that are, at times, less than subtle. The role of businesses in education should never be underestimated. Just as education is important to the local community, businesses near the school district are also beneficial to the success of students and community. Businesses are only one type of influence, hence continue to read about the top four influences on public education.

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