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News Corp. Is the Camel's Nose in the Educational Tent

I don't like to give publicity to News Corporation, but it's unavoidable in light of its recent announcement. I'm referring to the decision by Amplify, the corporation's education division, to sell its curriculum on existing tablets and on its own 10-inch Android tablet to schools ("News Corp. Has a Tablet for Schools," The New York Times, Mar. 6).

It's the curriculum part that is most troubling. In words reminiscent of those contained in "A Nation At Risk," Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools and now the chief executive of Amplify, along with Condoleezza Rice, last year called the state of schools a "grave national security threat." Manufacturing a crisis is a proven way of boosting sales of products and services that purport to address the issue.

But I have a more fundamental concern. It has to do with who determines the public school curriculum. I've written before about how corporations are inordinately influencing the reform movement ("Be Wary of Corporate Inroads Into Education," Reality Check, Dec. 17, 2010). Since I wrote that column, the intrusion has become more pronounced. The Pearson Foundation, the non-profit arm of one of the nation's largest educational publishers, has paid for junkets for educational commissioners of states doing business with the company ("Free Trips Raise Issues for Officials in Education," The New York Times, Oct. 9, 2011). The president of the Pearson Foundation dismissed any ethical concerns that providing free trips by its corporate cousin has anything to do with getting business. I'll let readers of this column decide for themselves.

Public schools are supposed to be answerable to voters - not just to a handful of for-profit corporations and private philanthropies with billions to spread around. I realize that public schools have long bought textbooks from for-profit corporations. But what is taking place now goes far beyond textbooks alone. It includes standardized tests and packaged curriculums. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the next step is the use of mandatory scripted lesson plans. When that happens, the takeover of public schools will be close to completion.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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