Disruptors or bullies: What are school leaders to do when funding comes with an agenda?

Dive Brief:

  • From Netflix to Facebook to Salesforce and a lot of companies in between, investors from the tech field are increasingly entering the education game hoping to influence the way schools approach teaching and learning, a trend The New York Times detailed in a recent article.
  • Through private philanthropy and grant competitions, the companies' leaders are influencing everything from the subjects taught to the software used in schools, with little public scrutiny around what qualifies them as experts in education. 
  • Few checks and balances exist on the companies' de facto policy enactment, which experts say circumvents the democratic process. Not only that, but very little research exists to validate the effectiveness of these new approaches to student learning. 

Dive Insight:

Many decry the influence of politicians via decisions that exclude teachers and principals from the conversations about what's best for students, and there should be similar concern around business tycoons using money as a lever to wield their agendas in schools, as well. It is worthwhile to consider that tech companies are notoriously negligent to issues of diversity, which begs the question of whether their touted "best practices" actually consider the needs and differences of an increasingly diverse student population. 

With federal and state funding for K-12 and higher education shrinking rapidly — Metropolitan State University of Denver President Stephen Jordan recently said presidents are having to reconcile in their heads that public support for higher ed will likely hit zero by 2025 — leaders are looking for ways to ensure schools stay open. And that means increasingly turning to private philanthropy, which has put some administrators between a rock and a hard place, needing to accept the funding but also hoping to allay any student concerns over ties that come with the money.

For example, surveys found most institutions and their students, like most Americans overall, supported the United States' involvement with the Paris Agreement on climate change, and many institutions have vowed to continue advancing the work. But as of December 2015, institutions in 41 states and the District of Columbia received funding from the Koch Brothers, whom The New Yorker recently pinpointed as largely driving the U.S. withdrawal from the accords. Finding ways to balance these conflicting priorities between donors, the public interest and schools' obligations to internal stakeholders is one of the greatest administrative challenges of today. 

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Filed Under: Higher Ed K12 Policy & Regulation
Top image credit: Adobe Stock