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Scholastic to Scale Back Corporate-Sponsored Materials

Following a recent controversy over free classroom materials distributed to public schools that were sponsored by the coal industry, educational publisher Scholastic has signaled that it will significantly reduce—but not eliminate—corporate partnerships in supplying such materials.

"We acknowledged problems with that program and conducted a thorough review of all of our recent sponsored materials," Scholastic president and CEO Richard Robinson said in a statement issued last week.

In May, amid sharp criticism from several advocacy groups and the editorial board of The New York Times, Scholastic stopped distributing a package of curricular materials on energy issues developed with financial support from the American Coal Foundation. The publishing company also promised to conduct a "thorough review" of its policies and procedures for such sponsored content.

The statement issued last week outlines steps Scholastic is taking as it moves forward.

First, Robinson said the publisher is "focusing on working only with a carefully selected list of nonprofit, corporate, and government partners, each of whom will be vetted by a newly formed Partner Review Board."

This step is expected to reduced such partnerships by about 40 percent, with a reduction "primarily in the pool of corporate partners."

Robinson said the Partner Review Board will consist of a curriculum editor, a teacher, a school administrator, a child psychologist, and a "parenting expert" to evaluate potential partners and to review content of sponsored programs.

Finally, Scholastic is "strengthening the editorial review of sponsored supplemental educational content and putting additional checks in place to ensure accuracy and impartiality."

"We have to improve our standards and make sure there's not a scintilla of anything that could be suggested to be biased," Robinson told the Times in a story published yesterday. "The vast majority of our programs are not controversial, but once in a while there was a slip-up in editorial judgment."

The story notes that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based advocacy group, last month sent Scholastic a letter, signed by dozens of educators and children's health experts, urging the publisher not to produce any teaching materials paid for by for-profit corporations or trade groups that promote business interests.

UPDATE: (12:44p.m.): I just received a joint press release from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Change.org about the Scholastic announcement. It offered an upbeat assessment of the publisher's move.

"We appreciate the significant steps Scholastic is taking to restore the trust of parents and educators," Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in the release. "As a result of this decision, students will be exposed to less commercialism in classrooms this fall."

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