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PTA Principles on Corporate Support Fail To Win Over Other Organizations

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By Jonathan Weisman

The National pta has adopted a set of guidelines for corporate involvement in education, but only after largely failing in its drive to forge a broad alliance against alleged commercialization of the schools.

The principles, approved by the parent-teacher organization at its national convention last month, seek to confine business partnerships to education-related projects and to bar advertising from the classroom.

Members of the group say they launched the effort after becoming alarmed over sophisticated efforts by businesses such as "Channel One," the commercial-supported television news program for schools, to target the school-age market.

The pta had hoped to put together an alliance of every major national education organization, thus giving the principles the clout that the pta alone could not provide, said Arnold Fege, the group's director of governmental relations. The original plan was for the document to be released by all the signators early this year.

But some groups seemed less than interested in the campaign, while others disagreed with it, either because they felt the guidelines were too strong or too weak, Mr. Fege explained. So the pta ended up adopting the principles without the envisioned alliance.

"When you have so many organizations that have so many different positions related to public-private partnerships, you know there is going to have to be a lot of consensus building," Mr. Fege said. "But there just is no consensus."

'Striking a Balance'

The main opposition to the guidelines came from organizations working to foster school-business partnerships, which currently number an estimated 140,000 nationwide.

Fearing the guidelines' language might scare off constructive business partners, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Association for Partners in Education refused to sign the document.

Instead, the two organizations and the National Alliance of Business are scheduled to hold a meeting in September to draft their own guidelines, which will seek to avoid "a too-negative tone," said Gordon Cawelti, executive director of the ascd.

"We were concerned with striking a balance expressing the concerns about companies with less-than-honorable intentions," he said, "but we didn't want to send the message that all corporations are bad."

At its 1990 convention, the American Federation of Teachers passed a policy statement decrying what it considered the commercialization of classrooms. Officials of the union subsequently decided not to endorse the pta guidelines out of respect for the autonomy of its affiliates, according to Ruth Chacon, an aft spokesman.

Other organizations quietly signed the principles but augmented them with detailed guidelines of their own. The National Education Association adopted its policy on relations with the business community in May, adding to the pta guide lines specific suggestions on how business could help education. The final paragraph of the two-page document states that the nea also subscribes to the pta principles.

Some Groups Indifferent

Other organizations simply have not given the issue the priority the pta would have liked, Mr. Fege said. The National School Boards Association, he suggested, has not endorsed the principles mainly because of indifference.

"We have been supportive of the guidelines up to this point, but we are not offering our endorsement," said an nsba spokesman, Phil Smith. "We just haven't gotten around to them."

Some groups and education officials, however, have moved quickly to endorse the pta document. The American Association of School Administrators adopted the guidelines in May, and the state school superintendents of California, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina have signed on.

The state chiefs acted under the leadership of Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of California, who has been an outspoken critic of Channel One. William L. Rukeyser, a special assistant to Mr. Honig, said Mr. Honig hopes that as the principles spread, they will eventually be adopted as local school-board policy or law.

"We want this to be an ongoing process that will eventually come up with a set of statements that will be universally embraced by business and educators," Mr. Rukeyser said.

Mr. Fege added that the pta had intended the principles to be a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" that would benefit business as well as education. Corporate partners who subscribed to the principles would be trusted by their educator counterparts, he suggested, and the public would not see their involvement as merely a marketing ploy.

Commercials Barred

The pta guidelines state that:

  • Corporate involvement should not require students to observe, listen to, or read commercial advertising.
  • Selling or providing access for commercial purposes to a captive student audience in a classroom 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 outside the classroom involves ethical and legal is sues that must be addressed.
  • Corporate involvement must sup port the goals and objectives of the school. 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 and 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 regular curricular 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.

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