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4.8: Are for-profit schools and corporate sponsorships viable?

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    by Myanc004

    Can you imagine a school sponsored by NIKE or maybe Levi Straus? Would you be apprehensive about sending your son or daughter to a school that promotes specific products? What if that same school had the highest test scores in the state and the highest percentage of graduates going on to college? The very idea that our children could be subjected to commercial product endorsement as early as kindergarten may be of concern, but so too is the idea that our children are failing to rise academically in the global arena (Zeiger, 2004) (KJ, 2008).

    Learning Objectives

    • understand the motivations behind for-profit and corporate sponsorship of schools.
    • know the concerns, advantages, and disadvantages of for-profit and corporate sponsored schools.
    • recognize a for-profit and corporate sponsored school.


    For-profit schools claim they can better manage the school system and are more equipped to run the financial side of educating our youth. Those who agree with this premise believe it is the combination of forces in business, competition and profit, which will produce the exceptional education that people in the U.S. desire (Symonds, Palmer, Lindorff, McCann, "For-Profit", 2000).

    In today’s economic times, many people are concerned about the future. With the collapse of mortgage companies, banks, and insurance giants; coupled with rising fuel prices that make basic operating costs of schools difficult, many are struggling to obtain funding for the public school system (KJ, 2008).

    This financial question has caused many public school systems to search for means of change from a seemingly unlikely source: the corporate world. Whether it is handing management of the schools over to a corporations, or merely seeking sponsored products and supplies, schools are looking to the business world (Keen, 2006).

    In a search for a solution to this growing problems of public education; states, cites, and parents have considered many alternative answers, from school vouchers, charter schools, magnet schools, etc. This search has yielded a myriad of possibilities that are being attempted throughout the country today. Within these options is the alternative of outsourcing public schools to varying degrees to private businesses that may open up a wide array of educational choices. This alternative of corporate involvement was used by the city of Philadelphia, when in 2002, they turned over management of forty-two of their schools in an attempt to improve their school system (Steinberg, 2002).

    Old classroom at Torf- and Siedlungsmuseum Wiesmoor
    Figure Old classroom at Torf- and Siedlungsmuseum Wiesmoor (GFDL, Simplicius, Wikimedia)

    For-Profit Schools

    A simple explanation of a for-profit school is any school that operates in terms of making money.

    Every decade seems to have its push for reform, and beginning in the early 1990s the idea of privately run public schools come to the forefront. This outsource of management of public schools to the private business sector are the educational management organizations (EMOs) (Molnar, Miron, Urschel, 2008). These EMOs began in the early 1990s with the likes of the Edison Schools. An EMO, as defined by Molner, Miron, and Urschel in their report on for-profit schools, is, “an organization or firm that manages schools that receive public funds, including district and charter public schools. A contract details the terms under which executive authority to run one or more schools is given to an EMO in return for a commitment to produce measurable outcomes within a given time frame” (2008, p. 3).

    The premise behind these for-profit schools is varied. Some feel that these schools are better able to respond to change and have the finances to provide it. Some also believe that the for-profit schools offer an opportunity to increase competition in both teaching approach and curriculum (Lips, 2000). Yet others believe that it is a natural expansion of the free market system and a “competitive market is the most effective and efficient way to make schools accountable and to determine the success or failure of a school” (Lips, 2000, p. 8).

    In a typical EMO, the corporation is initially burdened by large start-up costs and entrenched teacher’ unions, but they are also free of some regulations that allow greater latitude for designing the school and its curriculum (Lips, 2000).

    When considering for-profit schools, one has to also look at those operating in the college and trade school market venues. These include the likes of DeVry, ITT, and University of Phoenix to name but a few. These for-profit institutions have attempted to fill a niche for career training and have been able, in the past to create considerable profit for their investors with a 460% stock increase during the years of 2000-2003 (Brown, 2004).

    For-Profit Schools  
    "Innovations Obstacles
    New or varied curriculums designed to improve student performance Huge capital costs: Unlike public schools, must pay for their own buildings
    Longer school days and school years Political opposition from the education Establishment
    Most don't have teachers' unions, but offer merit pay and stock options Far fewer frills, such as extracurricular activities
    Less spending on administrative and central-office expenses Fewer programs for severely disabled/special-education students
    More parental involvement More difficulty attracting experienced teachers
    Freedom from traditional school bureaucracy Huge startup costs mean most companies are losing money" (Symonds, Palmer, Lindorff, McCann, "Primer", 2008)

    Corporate Sponsorship of Schools

    Corporate sponsorship, on the other hand, takes many forms in the school system. Corporations are involved in the full management of schools (EMOs), but also involve themselves in many other lesser forms. These involvements are seen in schools selling naming rights to locker rooms as in the case in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (Keen, 2006). In order to increase their revenue and be able to better afford the costs of educating children, they renamed their gym for the sum of $45,000 (Keen, 2006).

    Other schools have followed suit and done similar things.

      • In Newburyport, Massachusetts the school collected from $5,000-$100,000 for the renaming of several buildings (Keen, 2006).
      • An insurance company paid $650,000 for the ability to name two athletic field houses after their company (Keen, 2006).

    Corporation sponsorship also takes the form of materials used in the classrooms, such as, pamphlets and books that are funded by businesses. Businesses further sponsor school activities by providing uniforms for sporting activities, backing the “Book-it” program, and the program Channel One that is offered to schools ("Corporate-Sponsored", 1998).

    In the case of the Channel One program, viewing participation of schools allots them the benefit of free visual media players ("Corporate-Sponsored", 1998).

    In some school lunchrooms, corporations aid schools by providing students the availability to purchase Subway, Pizza Hut, or Arby’s for lunch at their own school ("Corporate-Sponsored", 1998).

    Pros Cons
    Increased revenue Commercialism
    Longer school days and school years Students subjected to advertising campaigns
    Larger budgets for school activities Objectivity clouded
    Still maintain public school status  


    Of the six largest for-profit organizations operating in 2000, none of them were making a profit, (Symonds, Palmer, Lindorff, McCann, "The Business", 2000).

    Harvard study found that between 2002 and 2006, Philadelphia EMOs had a 10-8 percentage point increase over the other public and district run schools operating in the same area. (Garland, 2007)

    Many for-profit schools remain unregulated and in the state of California, it is the responsibility of the student to assure accreditation, until full disclosure laws become enacted (Fensterwald, 2008).

    A slight yearly increase in the number of EMOs, approximately 2 additional EMOs in 2007, and student enrollment, approximately 25,000 students, has been seen. (Molnar, 2008, p. 7-10)


    The debate over the extent or even involvement of private corporations in the school system stems from a concern over influence and goals. Since corporations are by nature indebted to their stockholders, where do their loyalties lie when running a school? This is the concern that motivated the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS, 1999) to advise a focus on these eight steps to maintain the integrity of education where corporations are involved:

      • • "Corporate involvement shall not require students to observe, listen to, or read commercial advertising.
      • • Selling or providing access to a captive audience in the classroom for commercial purposes is exploitation and a violation of the public trust.
      • • Since school property and time are publicly funded, selling or providing free access to advertising on school property involves ethical and legal issues that must be addressed.
      • • Corporate involvement must support the goal and objectives of the schools. Curriculum and instruction are within the purview of educators.
      • • Programs of corporate involvement must be structured to meet an identified education need, not a commercial motive, and must be evaluated for educational effectiveness by the school district on an ongoing basis.
      • • Schools and educators should hold sponsored and donated materials to the same standards used for the selection and purchase of curriculum materials.
      • • Corporate involvement programs should not limit the discretion of schools and teachers in the use of sponsored materials.
      • • Sponsor recognition and corporate logos should be for identification rather than commercial purposes."(NCSS, 1999)


    We all want the ability to have and offer the best possible education for our youth and ourselves. Though there may be debate as to how to achieve this, for-profit schools and corporate sponsorship of schools is an option to attempt to achieve our full potential as an educated country.


    Brown, E. (2004, December 12). Can For-Profit Schools Pass an Ethics Test? The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2008, from

    Corporate-Sponsored Public Schools. (1998, July 8). Retrieved September 16, 2008, from

    Fensterwald, J. (2008, July 3). For-Profit Schools Still Unregulated. Educated Guess. Retrieved September 19, 2008, from

    Garland, S. (2007, April 11). Study Back Results of For-Profit Schools. The New York Sun. Retrieved September 21, from

    Keen, J. (2006, July 28). Wisconsin Schools Find Corporate Sponsors USATODAY. Retrieved September 17, 2008, from

    KJ. (August 17, 2008). U.S school weeks may shorten to four days due to fuel costs. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from

    Lips, C. (2000, November 20). ’Edupreneurs’ A Survey of For-Profit Education. Policy Analysis. 386. Retrieved September 18, 2008, from

    Molnar, A., Miron, G., and Urschel, J. (2008, July). Profiles of For-Profit Educational Management Organizations. Commercialism in Education Research Unit. Retrieved September 19, from

    NCSS Principles for Corporate Involvement in the Schools. (1999, February). NCSS. Retrieved September 16,from

    Simplicius. (2008, June 25). Old classroom at Torf- and Siedlungsmuseum Wiesmoor. Wikimedia Commons.Retrieved September, 2008, from

    Steinberg, J. (2002, April 18). Private groups get 42 schools in Philadelphia. The New York times. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from

    Symonds, W. C., Palmer, A.T., Lindorff, D., and McCann,J. (2000, February 7). For-Profit Schools. BusinessWeek. Retrieved September 17, 2008, from

    Symonds, W., Palmer, A. T., Lindorff, D., and McCann, J. (2000, February 7). For-Profit Charters: A Primer. BussinessWeek. Retrieved September 20, 2008, from

    Symonds, W., Palmer, A. T., Lindorff, D., and McCann, J. (2000, February 7). The Business of Education. BusinessWeek. Retrieved September 20, 2008 from

    Zeiger, H. (2004, February 4). Failing public schools. RenewAmerica. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from