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Public schools face huge challenges today. President Obama recently called for greater investments in education and innovation. At the same time, a growing number of states and cities teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Cash-strapped school districts are relying more and more on private funding to close budget gaps. Corporations and foundations now offer schools free curriculum, teacher training — even buying the rights to name cafeterias. Some critics fear these actions will lead to the commercialization of school – a place where many believe students should be free from advertising. Diane and her guests discuss the benefits and drawbacks of private funding in public schools.
- Susan Linn Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of "Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood."
- Brett Pawlowski President of DeHavilland Associates and publisher of the K-12 Partnership Report newsletter.
- Fawn Johnson Education correspondent with National Journal
- Michelle Pierre-Farid Executive Director of New Leaders for New Schools in Washington, D.C.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. An Illinois newspaper editor recently said about deep cuts to his community's schools, quote, "What we're facing now could be the new normal." Even well-off public school districts are seeing the permanent loss of arts programs and ballooning class sizes, all while being asked to meet higher standards each year.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the growing presence of private funding to close the gap in public school budgets is Brett Pawlowski of DeHavilland Associates, that is the publisher of the K-12 Partnership Report Newsletter. Also here in the studio is Fawn Johnson of National Journal magazine. And joining us from WBUR in Boston is Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you will have thoughts on this. Do join us at 800-433-8850. You can join us by e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to send us a tweet or join us on Facebook. And Fawn Johnson, if I could start with you, it would seem schools are in a double bind these days with higher expectations and low money?
MS. FAWN JOHNSONThat's absolutely right, Diane, and I think as you pointed out in your introduction, the quote "new normal" for schools is a permanent drought on funding. The federal spigot has been more or less cut off. This was something that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a speech.
MS. FAWN JOHNSONIt was probably the best tough love speech I've ever heard, last November, where he said the stimulus money that came a couple of years ago, $53 billion, for education and training, the extra $10 billion, that came for teachers in August of last year, if you remember, that saved tens of thousands of jobs. He said that's over. And he said states and districts are facing funding cliffs as their money runs out. However he also, the tough love part comes here, he said there's a wrong way to increase productivity and there's a right way.
MS. FAWN JOHNSONWhich means that from his perspective, and this is a largely federal idea going on here, that schools are still required to meet achievement standards for their students. They need to improve and they need to do it under tight budgets. And this is something that state superintendents and state government officials face all the time.
REHMBut clearly the question, Brett Pawlowski, is how do you fund public schools these days?
MR. BRETT PAWLOWSKIWell public schools have grown over the course of the past several decades. Funding has increased twofold in inflation-adjusted dollars since the '70s. That is not unwarranted increases, as money has gone to public schools, we have also, you know, we're serving special education students now. Technology in the '70s was an overhead projector. Building standards, we're asking the schools to do a lot more.
MR. BRETT PAWLOWSKIAnd you're right that people talk about this in terms of the great recession but it's really, the "new normal" is a much more accurate term because as these baby boomers start to retire the funding, you know the income taxes that they've been paying into the system are now funds that are going to be coming out, in terms of social security, Medicare, you know, pensions and healthcare and everything else. So it is a systemic problem. It's a major problem.
REHMWhat about real estate taxes? Haven't they been used in the past or a portion thereof to fund the public schools in the local jurisdiction?
PAWLOWSKIThat's an excellent issue to bring up because public education is funded 99 percent from government sources, 10 percent of that comes from the federal government, 45 percent of that comes from the states and 45 percent comes from local sources, and that's the national average. It varies by state.
PAWLOWSKIAnd property taxes are one of the primary sources at the local level. And we saw the housing boom, property taxes ramped up, spending actually increased quite a bit over the past ten years on public education. And as that bubble sort of pops we haven't even felt the impact of that really because the assessments, the property tax assessments have not rolled over to reflect the lower valuations of the houses.
REHMSo with the lower valuation of houses, and many houses simply empty, what you fear I would presume is that the revenues for those schools is going to be greatly diminished?
PAWLOWSKIIt's going to be greatly diminished and again coupled with the reduced revenues and increased expenses associated with the boomers, coupled with the third factor that not a lot of people talk about, which is enrollment trends. We're projected to have record enrollments every year through 2018.
REHMBrett Pawlowski, he's president of DeHavilland Associates and publisher of the K-12 Partnership Report Newsletter. Fawn Johnson is education correspondent with the National Journal. Turning to you, Susan Linn, with these diminished resources available both from federal, state and local sources, outside influences are moving in to schools today to a greater and greater extent. How different is this from what it was, say, 50 years ago?
MS. SUSAN LINNBy outside influences I assume one thing that you're talking about is corporate influences...
LINN...and the escalation of advertising and marketing to children in schools, and that has just escalated exponentially in the past 15 years, and especially, I think, in the past year or two. Ten years ago, the GAO issued a report calling marketing in schools essentially a growth industry with Coke and Pepsi leading the way. But we have seen increased instances of marketing in schools recently and before I talk about that, I want to say that my heart goes out to schools.
LINNI think it's shocking and distressing that as a country our priority that education and educating our children is not a priority and I think that's terrible. And I know that schools are really struggling, but turning to advertising and marketing in schools is not a good solution for several reasons, and shall I enumerate those?
LINNOkay, well, for one thing, marketing, in and of itself, whether it's in school or not, is harmful to children. It promotes materialistic values of the false notion that the things we buy will make us happy. And in doing that it promotes, you know, discontent and a lower self esteem, less concern about the environment. Research shows people with more materialistic values actually do have less concern about the environment.
LINNAnd also it's a factor in a lot of public health problems facing children today, childhood obesity, eating disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence, family stress and the erosion of children's creative play, which is the foundation of learning. So, you know, schools are supposed to be helping children, not harming them, and the idea that we are allowing marketing in schools, allowing a force in schools that actually undermines children's health and well being, that in and of itself is troubling.
LINNBut marketing in schools is even more problematic because it's compulsory and that's why advertisers like marketing in schools because the kids can't get away from it. It bypasses parents. Parents can turn off a television. They can limit computer time but they can't easily take kids out of school and they shouldn't have to. So that's another problem.
LINNAnd the other problem is that marketing, especially to children, is inherently unfair and deceptive and it's even -- and children are more vulnerable to marketing than adults. And in schools it's even more unfair and deceptive because everything that's marketed in schools carries that school's implicit endorsement.
LINNAnd so, and children, whether they like school or not, they know that school is supposed to be good for them, so if a school is marketing, say, SunnyD which, you know, is happening in some schools. The message is that SunnyD is good for me, and that in itself, you know, that's also a problem. And another thing is that it conflates educational values and market values. And educational values, I mean, one of them is to support and promote rigorous exploration and investigation. And market values are unthinking brand loyalty, impulse buying, so that's also a problem. And also it subverts critical thinking and objective evaluation...
LINN...and the purpose. I'll just say one more thing.
LINNThe purpose of marketing, one of them, is to make products irresistible by subverting reason and targeting emotions. And the purpose of school is in part to promote reason and for that reason alone we shouldn't have marketing in schools.
REHMSusan Linn, she's director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. She's an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of a book titled, "Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood". I'd be interested to hear from you, Fawn Johnson, about the extent to which we are seeing commercialization present in schools today.
JOHNSONWell I think it varies widely across the country and you know, particularly in Massachusetts, where Susan is. I think it's been a subject of considerable debate with the SunnyD example that she mentioned. I believe that that's where students are collecting SunnyD for their projects, but it varies.
REHMFawn Johnson of the National Journal, short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about public schools and the corporate interests who are moving in where public funding is falling short, and that is happening around the country. We have three guests with us this morning. Fawn Johnson of the National Journal. Brett Pawlowski is president of DeHavilland Associates. And Susan Linn, she's on the line with us from WBUR in Boston. She's director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the author of the book titled "Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood." Brett Pawlowski, I'd be interested in your reaction to Susan Linn's concerns about what's happening to our public schools.
PAWLOWSKII can appreciate her concerns. And there are certainly no shortage of examples of instructional materials that get sent out that may have, you know, explicit marketing content. I think that looking at sort of the sales marketing side of this is just one very narrow band of a very wide spectrum of the ways that companies and Chambers of Commerce and non-profit organizations are involved in public schools. As far as direct funding to the schools, there are good ways and, you know, maybe questionable ways to go about it. I mean, I think for years people have seen the Box Tops for Education program. And I don't know that I've ever heard any controversy about that and it actually provides a fair amount of money to the schools.
LINNDiane, may I (unintelligible)
REHMCertainly, Susan. Go right ahead.
LINNOkay. Yeah, you know, those Box Top for Education Programs -- and the SunnyD example is kind of like that is -- they're an incredibly bad deal for schools. And, you know, people do them, they think that they're getting a good deal. But, you know, it's like a -- you know, one pencil, people end up spending $20 per pencil. I mean, essentially schools get $.10 a label. So it's a -- they would spend, you know, several thousand dollars for a camcorder, or something like that. So -- and meanwhile the schools get the -- the companies like, you know, General Mills or Campbell's Soup or other companies, they get this incredible deal where, you know, there are signs all over the schools to buy their products and the teachers promote them, they go home in newsletters.
LINNI mean, you know, I don't think the schools should be selling out their students at all but that's a particularly, I think, egregious example of how unfair it is. The schools (unintelligible) ...
LINN...spending huge more money.
REHMAll right. Fawn Johnson, in your reporting on education, have you seen an increase, a growth in this kind of corporate influence, corporate presence -- I shouldn't use the word influence -- corporate presence in public schools?
JOHNSONTo the extent that there has been any change that I've seen over the course of the years in corporate presence, it's really about the business community trying to get involved on a much broader scale than I think what Susan is talking about, to help train a workforce. And this is -- you can assign any number of motivations behind that that you would like. And some of them may be more idealistic than others. But the simple fact is that the business community has been speaking louder and louder over the course of the last several years...
REHMWhat does that mean?
JOHNSON...saying -- they have been getting more involved in lobbying in Congress for more money for STEM, which is Science Technology Engineering Math skills. They say they don't have enough workers to actually fill their jobs. The thing to remember is that it starts off -- the pipeline that they're looking for is they're looking for a good college graduate that they can hire right off the bat. The problem is that some of the problems that they see from their employees start early on, you know, perhaps even still in the elementary school age. And particularly once you get to high school, that's when you start to lose people. So they're looking at some of these crucial breaking points in the pipeline between high school and college, for example, between college and the workforce.
JOHNSONThat's their overall involvement, so they spend time in Congress trying to lobby for more money for these kinds of things.
REHMBut what I hear Susan Linn saying, Brett Pawlowski, is that companies, corporations are using their influence to directly market products to children.
PAWLOWSKIRight. And where I was going to end up with the thought that I had started was that sales and marketing is one very narrow band of the spectrum on which businesses and others engage with schools. Fawn just touched on a very important aspect which is workforce preparedness. We talked before about these boomers retiring, leading to a funding crisis. These boomers are also the Sputnik generation, a very well prepared science and math generation who are gonna be leaving a lot of, you know, high-skill jobs that we need to fill. And so companies, you know, in HR and other functions are very, very concerned about the quality of the kids (unintelligible) ...
REHMAnd I can certainly understand that concern. But at the same time, I'm still trying to get to the marketing of products. And...
REHMHold on, Susan.
REHM...if you can talk about that, Brett.
PAWLOWSKIThe types of community school partnerships that I focus on, marketing is really not a part of that equation. I understand that it does take place with sponsored materials. My own opinion, just seeing that from a distance, is that personally I think it's a teacher in a district decision. There should be policies and discretion in place, and I trust the teachers to do that. The partnerships that I look at and have been studying for the past several years are focused on workforce preparedness. They're focused on community good will. They're focused on providing employees with volunteering opportunities (unintelligible) ...
REHMOkay. And tell me about the content of the K thru 12 partnership report newsletter. Are there products being marketed in that newsletter?
PAWLOWSKIThey are not. Our focus in terms of the case studies and the proof and practices and those sorts of things are focused on businesses or, you know, church organizations or other types of, you know, service learning organizations, working collaboratively with schools in districts on specific educational outcomes.
REHMAll right. And joining us now from her office here in Washington D.C. is Michelle Pierre-Farid. She's Executive Director of New Leaders for New Schools. Michelle, thanks for joining us.
MS. MICHELLE PIERRE-FARIDThank you.
REHMTalk about how charter schools differ in funding from traditional public schools.
PIERRE-FARIDSo there's a misconception that charter schools are funded very differently from public schools. They get the same type of per-pupil child funding that the district schools receive. So some people think that there is a pot of money that are just given to charter schools or that charter schools might get funding from parents, like an independent school. But charter schools are considered public schools and so they get the same type of funding...
PIERRE-FARID...from the district.
REHMGive me examples of how corporate partnerships have worked with your schools.
PIERRE-FARIDSo being a principal in two different types of schools, a district school and charter schools, and being trained through (unintelligible) schools, I learned that I had to really effectively use my budget, first of all, to make sure I was driving student achievement gains. Of course, many times, you know, different companies will come to your school and say they would like to market. But if they were not going to bring value for my students, then I was not going to allow them to be in the school. And I think it is the judgment of the school district and the principal to be able to see what value they add and how it's going to support the children in the schools.
REHMDo I understand correctly that private funds, for example, from a local law firm, have covered things at your schools as far ranging as bus transportation costs, tutors, summer camps, dinners for parent meetings?
PIERRE-FARIDYes. And I think it speaks back to Brett thinking about holistically how can private funding affect schools in a more nontraditional way to help move the schools forward. And so I did have, you know, a law firm in D.C. to help sponsor programs that I could not pay for out of my budget. There was just no way to sit there and think about, you know, sending children on wonderful excursions to colleges in elementary school. I could pay for it and cut a teacher's salary, but this law firm wanted to help us do that for our students and so they did that. Or raising $200,000 so that I could build a brand new library in my school.
PIERRE-FARIDSo I think there's just many different ways that we can strategically work with our business community about how to support our schools to get the gains and the supports that they want. And with the diversity that we have coming into our schools we just cannot think that our school-per-pupil allotment can actually be able to drive the gains that our president is speaking about.
REHMDo you ever worry that you or other principals might end up feeling beholden to some of these outside groups and funders?
PIERRE-FARIDThat is a great question, being the Executive Director now I'm training principals to be thoughtful about their budget. It's really, I think, (unintelligible) speaking to what Susan's saying, you know. You have children in front of them in your school for six hours and you're thinking about what are they being told day in and day out. And so you really are pushing the fact about, you know, what is ethical, what are you responsible for, is this actually bringing value? And sometimes you have to discern, this is not going to help us. It's not going to help my children.
PIERRE-FARIDAnother key piece is what are you also teaching your children about how to make good choices? What is decision making? What is going to help me better myself in the future? And that's a part of the school. That's creating great citizens. And so I don't think that we should just take everything out of the schools and think that children will never see it. But it's also helping children and preparing them to be able to make those right choices.
REHMNow, are there commercial ads within your school or presented to your children in one way or another?
PIERRE-FARIDSo there are some. So if you think about "Got Milk?" ads, you know, they show very prominent sports figures and entertainment figures that are in your school buildings. You might have "Just do It," Nike might be in your building. But for the most part, I think that schools are traditionally, you know, looking at things that are going to support their kids educationally and not towards these companies that are coming to just brand a school.
REHMBut I wonder if you do worry about the commercialization, not only of the two schools at which you are principal, but others as well.
PIERRE-FARIDAnd I think it goes back to the point of looking through your public funding first and making sure that you're making the right decisions there. So I don't think we should just throw money at schools and hoping that that will be the Band-Aid or the fix all. I do worry about sometimes we are allowing people to kind of sway our judgments because we might say we have a deficit for X, Y and Z. But through, you know, the -- you know, the district's coming out with rules for why you should allow certain companies in and thinking that more proactively will help us. But there is just a (word?) in our budget, so there's no way around it. And people have higher and higher expectations of what our children need to be able to do. And sometimes you're going to have to partner to be able to fill in those gaps.
REHMMichelle Pierre-Farid. She is Executive Director of New Leaders for New Schools, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Michelle, can you stay on with us for a bit?
PIERRE-FARIDYes, I can.
REHMOkay. Susan Linn, you've heard Michelle talk about the kinds of marketing advertisements, "Got Milk?", "Just Do It, Nike." And yet she feels that these are things children are going to be exposed to in any case. So what's the problem?
LINNWell, I think that that is a problem. The children are bombarded with advertising and marketing. Kids see 25,000 commercials a year on television alone. And I think we -- and it's not good for them, and I talked about that earlier. And so I think we have to ask ourselves what does it mean that our schools are embracing the marketing as well. What the evidence is, is that the more kids are immersed in marketing it's not that they get better at dealing with it. They actually get worse at dealing with it. So, you know, I think the fact that kids see it everywhere is actually an argument for all of us working for commercial-free time and space in children's lives.
REHMAt the same...
REHMExcuse me. At the same time...
LINNOh, I'm sorry. Go...
REHM...you've heard Michelle say that her school, like schools everywhere, are suffering from financial shortfalls. And she is trying to do the very best she can for the children in those schools. And if outside interests can be of help, why not?
LINNWell, the -- well, for one thing, as I said earlier, my heart goes out to schools and I think it's just, you know, an outrage that we're not supporting them. And I, you know, I was so happy to hear Michelle talk about how carefully she considers these decisions. But allowing advertising in schools, as I've said earlier, is actually harmful to kids. I mean, even the Nike slogan "Just Do It," is that really what we want kids to be learning in school? Don't we want them to learn how to think? And if you have ads from a company like Nike in school, especially if they're giving you a lot of money, how careful are you going to be about having teachers, say, investigate Nike's environmental impact or to investigate Nike's labor practices.
LINNI mean, I think, you know, that we really don't like to bite the hand that's feeding us. So I think that we have to take that into consideration. And one thing that we haven't talked about -- I know Brett said that, you know, it's a small part of the business community's involvement, he feels, and I appreciate that, but I think that we should spend some time talking about the wide range and the depth of marketing in schools today. I mean, you know, I mentioned SunnyD, that's scholastic partners with SunnyD to raise, you know, kids collect labels in exchange for books.
LINNI mean, that's one example, but there's a company called For Visual Media in elementary schools, and they are selling advertising on desks -- on students' desks and tables. And when -- in their pitch to corporations on their website they say it's a unique form of advertising where viewers can't change the channel or turn the pages. There's a company called School Media that is selling advertising on school lockers, which, you know, so the kids pass them every day, so there's a sense of ownership. New Jersey and other places around the country have approved ads on school buses. Although I will say that Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has actually taken that on successfully with bus radio helping parents reject (unintelligible)
REHMSusan Linn. She's director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd let's go right to the phones. We have four guests with us this morning. Fawn Johnson is education correspondent with The National Journal, Susan Linn is Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Brett Pawlowski is president of DeHavilland Associates and publisher of the K-12 Partnership Report newsletter. Joining us from her office here in Washington is Michelle Pierre-Farid. She's executive director of New Leaders for New Schools. And we'll go first to Bonita Springs, Fla. Good morning, Glenn, you're on the air, go right ahead.
GLENNOK, thanks for taking my call.
GLENNBefore I begin my comments, I would like people to consider our standing in the world in the areas of science, math and reading. And we don't have to look too far just north to Canada. Now, my – my reaction to funding of schools – I was a vice principal for the first eight years of my career. I spent a great deal of time raising funds for the schools through various methods. I felt that the focus was way out of place. Our focus should be on education, not on raising money, that's point one. Point two, if you have commercial people coming into the schools, they have a reason to be there. They have a reason because they need to raise money.
GLENNThey need to make money. That's the only way they could stay in business, therefore, you're using the schools to raise money for corporations. And my third and final comment, and then I'll take the comments off the air, I don't feel that funding of schools through property tax is a fair and equitable way to fund them. I felt that for many years that it's much better if the state governments would take over a sales tax plan that would really fund the schools.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling, Glenn. Michelle, I'm going to come to you first for his comments about using commercial products to fund schools.
PIERRE-FARIDSo I definitely think that we should not have spent a lot of our time, you know, trying to raise funds for schools. But because of the simple fact that there is, you know, a gap there, you're going to have to look at, you know, what you do want to fund to support the students so that we're not 21 in, you know, science in the world, so that you can move the students achievement. The funding sources I do think that we need to revamp how we look at how we fund our schools. And I think that will take the government and states to come together to have the conversation about how do you fund it adequately and with the right supports.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Wendy in Midlothian, Va. She says, "Our elementary school is constantly having fundraiser nights at fast food restaurants. We never attend them but the kids get off the bus with stickers on their shirts encouraging them to attend. It really does concern me how they push bad eating habits for the purpose of helping their school. I understand the value in getting support from the business world and that there is hardly any way from getting it these days, but it has to be controlled." Fawn Johnson.
JOHNSONI think that we – I can't say that I have a dog in this fight because I don't really, but the thing that has become clear to me from watching this on a national level is that schools are really struggling to come up with an answer – any answer – to try and meet these competing demands. One of the things that the current education secretary, Arne Duncan, has been spending a lot of time talking about is how to – how to innovate smartly – how to, essentially, do more with less, which, I think, a lot of schools have a difficulty with. But he wants – he wants students to spend more time online. He has pushed for competitive funding that schools can – they can compete for funding if, for example, they start innovating by publishing the curriculum online, that that's cheaper than with textbooks, especially in the higher education setting.
JOHNSONAnd when you do that you enter in all kinds of business interests. You know, some schools don't even have computers that they can pay for. But even if they do have computers, let's say that you're training children to be able to navigate the worldwide web, for example. How much advertising is there, as well. So you open up a whole new realm of opportunities...
JOHNSON...For businesses, but also these are the things that are trying to propel students into the 21st and 22nd century, so it becomes...
REHMOf course. Brett Pawlowski, does that bring you in. Is that how you might be involved?
PAWLOWSKINo. And I would like to take a step back to the caller who was talking about spending a disproportionate time raising funds. I would encourage people in those shoes to look for different kinds of community partners because, you know, I understand the mentality of we've got reduced funding from the government, let's go refill the well from somewhere else, but there are different types of relationships out there that can provide value to the schools.
REHMGive me an example.
PAWLOWSKIOK, one of my favorite examples, and you asked what we write about in the newsletter. This is a case study. In Texas several years ago there was a manager in an upscale mall, and it's a mall owned by the Simon Property Group, and she saw teenagers hanging out during the school day. And she went to the school district and she said, look, we see your kids here. Either they've dropped out or they're about to. I've got empty space. Why don't we open up an alternative school site here? We'll give you the space for free, we'll outfit it, we'll carpet it, we'll paint it. You bring the kids, you bring the teacher, you bring the desks and you pay for utilities.
PAWLOWSKISimon Property Group with that thought has launched the Simon Youth Foundation. They now have 25 of these alternative learning sites in 12 states around the country. And that is a tremendous value to the district that does not involve any sort of, you know, I'll write you check and you put my logo...
JOHNSONWell, and, Diane, just to ping off of that. That is exactly the kind of innovation that you'll hear Arnie Duncan talk about. That he's – he's looking for schools to do precisely those kinds of almost radical moves to try and keep kids in school and to keep them from dropping out. And that's the kind of thing that he would like to reward, if he can, with federal money. So it is a bind that you're putting superintendents in if people – if parents, for example, or principals are going to be protesting the involvement of any kind of local business community in their schools.
REHMBut Susan Linn, you've still got problems.
LINNWell, I mean, is anybody besides me concerned about kids going to school in a shopping mall surrounded by commercialism, by advertising and marketing, by those values?
PAWLOWSKII would rather they do that than drop out.
LINNBut I mean why – it did occur to me that one thing that the mall owner could have done is gone back to the school and say, you know, when I see those kids, I'm going to send them back to school. I'm going to let you know that they're there.
PIERRE-FARIDBut I think, too...
LINNOr Simon – I mean, they could have donated money without having kids in the mall. I – and one thing that, I guess, really does kind of surprise me about this conversation is that everybody seems to say well, this is the way it is. And nobody's talking about the fact that we need – we have to help kids now but we also all need to be working to reclaim schools and to make that a priority in this country. And nobody seems to be thinking about the long range here.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Greg in Ann Arbor. He says, "How about instead of fighting advertising in schools, we embrace it. Why not ask for much more funding from business. We can teach reasoning by analyzing ads. States don't see the value in education and they underfund schools. Why not let another stakeholder be more influential." Michelle.
PIERRE-FARIDYou know, I think, Susan, you're also underestimating the ability of schools to help children to make better choices and using our curriculum to really foster, you know, innovation, thought processes, problem solving by having these difficult conversations with children. And really saying to them, you know, what makes sense here? Do we know how much we're spending on this? What does this look like? What choices will you make now, in the future, ten years from now? And, I think, one of the issues that we have is that we're not pushing our children to make these difficult decisions younger.
PIERRE-FARIDAnd so when they get into an age where they pass by a shop and you can get a donut or you can get carrots, they're, like, hey, donut is the cheaper and I'm going to eat that. And so I think we need to push the conversation. I think it helps us to allow the children to be able to have a great discussion about what's happening in their world.
REHMAll right, another caller from Phoenix, Ariz., good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning, thank you for taking my call.
DAVIDI wanted to know if there were any industries, companies that were acceptable for marketing to schools or it's just the idea that marketing in schools is a bad idea. Also, I wanted to know if there were – if there have been any companies that have been willing to donate to a school and look at the long-term benefits to the school versus, you know, taking an immediate, you know, benefit of marketing to children.
LINNI think that marketing brands in school and products to children in school is very troubling. I mean, that's different than promoting public health messages like wear a safety helmet, you know. But promoting particular brands is problematic for the reasons, you know, that I mentioned earlier. And I agree with Michelle and I – that we do need to have conversations about – with children about commercialism and about dealing with advertising but, I think, if a school is getting a lot of money from a corporation in exchange for advertising and that company finds out that part of what the school is doing is actually undermining sales of its product, that the corporation's not going to be all that interested in marketing there anymore.
LINNAnd I think that that's a real problem. And I think that the best way to have conversations with children about marketing is, you know, if you're in an environment where your work and their work is not influenced by it.
REHMAll right. To Fort Wayne, Ind., good morning, Rick, you're on the air.
RICKGood morning. I'm a former educator and my wife currently is a high school English teacher. And just some observations and I would be curious what your guests' observations in other parts of the country, but it seems like sometimes some of the more obvious ways of saving money are overlooked. One would be in the physical properties of the school. I find in our area that at night the lighting – schools will be lit up like a used car lot. And I understand you have to have lighting to prevent some vandalism, but it's to the point where from a distance it's lit up like a little city. And I've also driven by more affluent neighborhood schools and they have stadium lighting for their football fields and that stadium lighting is on all night.
REHMAll right, Rick, thanks for your call, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Brett, I know you wanted to make a comment.
PAWLOWSKIYeah, the idea of finding operational efficiencies so that more money flows through to the academic side, I think, is an excellent point and circling back to the idea of partnerships in education is another great example that I wanted to share to this point. In Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of here, which is sort of a high-tech area, there's a group called the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education, known as MCBRE. It was a group co-founded by the superintendent, Jerry Weast, and one of their big initiatives was to bring in extremely high level corporate partners to act as consultants at the district level to look at operational efficiencies.
PAWLOWSKIAnd we're talking about the director of global facilities for Lockheed Martin, for example, to look at facilities maintenance. Through that sort of partnership they found literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in inefficiencies, and through an agreement with their funding sources, that money was able to flow through to the academic side. And so the idea of bringing in your community partners to help in that sort of way, I think, is an excellent application of community engagement.
REHMBut I think we're clearly talking about two very different subjects here. One is a partnership where corporations try to foster learning toward particular kinds of adult employment participation. Another is almost kidnapping the child's mind at a very early age through marketing. Two very, very different kinds of approaches, one which, I think, an awful lot of people would feel good about, another which people are finding very questionable. Here's an e-mail from John in Kalamazoo. He says, "Where private funding is, there so will be private interests, period. Compared to lobbying of public officials, there's already a large gap in the USA between private and public schools. If the U.S. wants to improve its education across the board it's going to have to put its money where its mouth is." Susan.
LINNWell, I certainly agree with that. I think it's not in children's best interest to have education sullied by advertising and marketing in schools. And there are school districts that, even in these hard times, that are rejecting it. The San Diego public schools just recently voted not to have marketing in schools. And they've got, you know, a lot of money – a big budget deficit and a big problem there but their school board decided that the costs were too high. Montgomery County was one of the districts that early on voted to – not to let the company bus radio put advertising and marketing – put compulsory commercial radio on school buses. So there are school districts around the country that are making different choices and I think it's important.
REHMAll right. And we all have to leave it there. Susan Linn, she's an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, author of "Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood." She's director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood. Brett Pawlowski is president of DeHavilland Associates. Fawn Johnson, education correspondent with National Journal and Michelle Pierre-Farid, Executive Director of New Leaders for New Schools. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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