By Paul M. Newton
SSTA Research Centre Report #02-05: 42 pages, $11
The History of Business-Education Relationships in CanadaPart II: Policy Development For Corporate Involvement
The Action Research CyclePart III: Summary, Conclusions, and Implications
This report is a summary of a Master’s thesis by Paul M. Newton, University of Saskatchewan.
School systems are increasingly forging alliances with business and community groups in response to government funding reductions, calls for increased student achievement, and appeals for curricular relevance. School systems have discovered that the business sector can be a valuable source of alternative revenue. Tymko states “the education system is increasingly considering, or already using, alternative funding sources as an institutionalised means of supplementing government funds”. At the same time, business has perceived an opportunity to direct public education toward improved work force training. Debates are emerging over the role that business and corporations ought to take in public education. These debates raise concerns about the purpose of public education, the role of private interests in public education, and the ethical and moral nature of these business-education links.
In this study, these debates were explored in the context of the nature of Catholic education and the social teachings of the Church through a policy development process. An action research methodology was used to assist the Board of Education to develop their policy governing corporate involvement in their school system.
Part I of this report examines the literature on corporate involvement in public schools and the teachings of the Catholic Church with respect to economic justice and the common good. Part II reports the substantive findings of the study, while Part III discusses the implications and areas for further research.
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As Canadian schools face funding dilemmas, the pressure exerted on school systems to develop business-education relationships increases. This pressure is unlikely to diminish. School systems that may have shown little, if any, interest in such relationships a few years ago, are now seeing a need to develop ethical and beneficial relationships with business.
With declining resources and the resulting pressure to do more with less, public education is also emphasising communication and marketing. Clearly, with these changes in both the corporate and public education sectors, there is an opportunity for the ‘start of something big’: mutually beneficial partnerships between the two. (Tymko, 1996, p. 10)Proponents of business-education relationships state that these links will assist school systems in improving student achievement and curricular relevancy, while critics argue that “partnerships are not always benevolent, and pressure groups outside the school frequently have more than the children’s interests at heart” (Hargreaves, 1997, p. 3).
The development of policy in areas that are contentious or politically charged can result in frequent roadblocks or political impasses. A research methodology that focuses on relationship building and collaborative inquiry can facilitate a successful resolution to problematic policy issues. This study used practitioner action research as a model for policy development. Robinson (1993) defines practitioners as “anyone who engages in educational practices, including students, parents, teachers, administrators and policy-makers” (p. 6). She states however, that there is a “tenuous link between policy and service delivery” (p. 5). Much of the theory of practitioner research is devoted to the work of educational professionals as practitioners and as researchers. This study approaches Board members as “policy practitioners.” The link between policy and service delivery is not germane to this study, since the efficacy of action research or problem based methodology in assisting policy practitioners is the singular focus. Since the purpose of this study is not on policy implementation, this is an appropriate assertion. By viewing Board members as policy practitioners, this methodology can be employed to identify policy “problems” and formulate policy solutions.
This document explores the literature on corporate involvement in public education. It also summarizes an action research study (Newton, 2001) on policy development in a Catholic school system for corporate involvement. Some of the findings from this study are specifically for those involved in Catholic education, while others are finding of a more general nature. This document will present the substantive findings related to corporate involvement in education, as well as report on the findings concerning policy development processes.
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Part I: Corporate Involvement In Education: A Review of the Literature
The History of Business-Education Relationships in Canada
There have been significant relationships between business and public education since the beginnings of public education in Canada. The level of business involvement in public education has adapted to fit the perceived needs of society and the requirements of business. At times of social upheaval, business has attempted to assert more influence over public education. Business-education relationships “have become highly charged and controversial and subject to redefinition” (Young & Levin, 1998, p. 213) at times when there are great economic and societal changes.
Prior to the first decades of the twentieth century, “public education certainly served the cause of social order, but was not expected to make an important contribution to increasing either national economic wealth or individual economic opportunity” (Manzer, 1994, p. 96). The period prior to the First World War saw a change in the level of involvement of business in public education. Business groups began to advocate for improved work force training and legislators and policy-makers began to respond to their demands. “The Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education was appointed by the Federal government in 1910 after several years of representations by business associations and trade unions, which urged federal action to promote vocational education” (p. 111). Federal legislators responded to calls for vocational education and passed a series of acts of parliament designed to address the labour force ‘problem.’ These included: the Agriculture Aid Act of 1912, the Technical Education Act of 1919, the Vocational Education Act of 1931, the Vocational Training Co-ordination Act of 1942, and the Technical and Vocational Training Assistance Act of 1960 all of which provided federal money toward vocational training in secondary schools.
The last twenty years have seen a shift from an ‘arms length’ involvement by business to a direct involvement with schools and school systems with the goal of responding to the challenges of the information age and the global economy. Proponents of increased business involvement argue that “the design of educational policies must give priority to the external pressures of an increasingly competitive global economy” (Manzer, 1994, p. 213). Business groups point to the demands of new technologies, the changing nature of work, and globalization as the impetus for more direct business involvement.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, organized business renewed its claim to participate in educational policy-making, citing the necessity of business involvement in educational planning to meet the dual challenge of a technological society and a global economy. To a degree unprecedented since the years before the First World War major business associations acted to formulate their policy position and establish their presence as ‘stakeholders’ in educational policy communities. (p. 233)This is an international phenomenon. Business leaders in the United States and the United Kingdom, in particular, have deepened their involvement in public education over the last twenty years.
In the last decade or so, many Canadian business leaders, in step with their international counterparts, have come to see their interests closely associated with the ways in which schools contribute to the preparation of a skilled and competitive labour force and have sought a stronger role in influencing school programs. (Young & Levin, 1998, p. 213)The emerging relationships between business and education are characterised by direct and local involvement with the school or school system. The term ‘partnership’ is often used to describe these new relationships, in which the schools receive direct, tangible benefits from businesses. These partnerships have gained widespread appeal from both schools, who receive resources from their corporate partner, and from business, who now find themselves in a position to directly influence educational policy. “If the Conference Board’s numbers are correct, most Canadian schools now have a corporate partner” (Robertson, 1998, p. 279). Business now has the ability to affect public education at the local level. “Links between the business community and schools have increased in recent years as employers have realized that the most effective way to influence public education is to work together with it” (Hill, 1997, pp. 9-10).
Critics of business-education relationships argue that vocational education is not the only motivation of business. They suggest the more sinister motivations of advertising and of profit as key to business involvement in schools. Hill (1997) reported,
in a 1996 report on investment opportunities in education, the Lehman Brothers declare that ‘education could replace health care as the politically ‘hot’ industry, causing changes and new opportunities for entrepreneurs . . . Public reform movements are gaining strength, from which the private sector will benefit’. (p. 5)The private benefits that business may enjoy as a result of these new relationships are of concern to educators. Many partnership arrangements include requirements for the displaying of corporate logos, advertising in the school, and the dissemination of corporate ideals.
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A Rationale for Business-Education Relationships
Much has been written about the need for educational institutions to develop relationships with the community in which they are situated. It has been suggested that all stakeholders in education be included in the task of educating youth. Various relationships have been suggested including parent councils, school-business partnerships, collaboration, and the establishment of charitable foundations. The relationships that have developed have given rise to programs of learning outside of the classroom. “Schools have realized the potential of extending the school program into the local community, thereby, improving the local school-community relations” (Saskatchewan Education, 1989, p. vii).
O’Connor (1996) argued that changes in education, society, and technology have necessitated the development of industry-education links. He points to appeals for increased community involvement, the need for improved work force training, the demands of new technologies, and reduced government funding for education as the impetus for creating and maintaining these relationships. This model, in which schools are encouraged to develop links to the community, is fast becoming the new paradigm in education. Fullan (1999) suggested that “by extending purposeful alliances to diverse outside partners we gain moral meaning in education reform and contribute to its spread” (p. 60). Many see these coalitions as the possible solution to such diverse crises as scarcity of resources, poor student achievement, and loss of values in education.
Improvement in student achievement is a major goal of business-education links. “Partnerships endeavor to help students attain greater success in technological subjects and in academics (particularly literacy, numeracy and science)” (O’Connor, 1996, p.11). This concern for academic achievement is fuelled by a belief that public education in Canada is failing to provide a quality education for Canadian youth and that a quality education and high student achievement are linked to economic prosperity. “On a global level, there is a wide-spread belief that economic development is closely linked with quality education” (p.12).
“More than ever, schools are partnering with business to help keep pace with emerging technology. Schools are also teaming with community partners in an effort to secure new and used technologies for the classroom” (O’Connor, 1996, p.12). Many business groups see a need for substantive training in new technologies. Aware of the high cost of providing technology to students, many corporations have stepped up to provide assistance to school systems. Businesses have offered shared equipment and facilities, donations of new and used equipment, and training of teachers in the new technology.
Proponents of corporate involvement in education laud the strengths of community-based education. “Community-based education is founded on the belief that student learning should occur both inside and outside of a school’s four walls” (O’Connor, 1996, p. 4). Community-based education involves many different community groups and, it has been argued, should be an integral part of the curricula not an enhancement of existing programs. Community-based education is viewed as practical, and “most communities share the belief that partnerships must help schools bring relevancy to their curricula” (p. 6).
One of the most significant arguments for business-education links is the improvement of work force training and employability skills for students. “Time and again, Canadians referred to the role partnerships can play in helping youth prepare for, and secure, meaningful employment” (O’Connor, 1996, p. 6). Proponents of business-education relationships argue that relationships with business allow for a more effective education system directed towards providing relevant skills and training for the work place. The involvement of the corporate sector gives corporations the ability “to help define what we want students to know and be able to do as a result of education” (p. 12). It also allows students to make direct connections with employers and “indeed, . . . an important payoff of partnerships in education is the provision of direct employment” (p. 6).
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Issues in Business-Education Relationships
The position taken by proponents of increased business-education links has been vehemently criticised. Critics point to the incompatibility of public interest and private interest when it comes to matters of the common good. In recent times, public opinion seems to have supported the assertion that “what is good for business is good for all”. This remains only an assertion. As I will discuss, the risks involved in placing the common good at the whim of private interests are significant.
Power and Decision-Making in Education
Special interest groups, some argue, may wield an unequal influence in educational decision-making because of their economic and political power. Bolman and Deal (1991) described eight forms of power that operate within organisations. Several of the forms are at play in the interactions between schools and community groups. Information and expertise, control of rewards, and access to and control of agendas are particularly relevant (pp. 196-197).
Information and expertise allows the educator to hold power in decision-making around fundamental questions of education. The expertise of the professional educators gives them the ability to address what should be taught and how it should be taught. At the same time, business has expertise about work-force requirements, and exercises that base of power under the banner of vocational education or advocacy for technological literacy or other such requirements for work-force training.
Control of rewards becomes significant when community groups begin “investing” in education. The resources provided by business have become significant and public education will undoubtedly come to depend on these alternative funding sources even more in the future. Financial contributions have become more difficult to turn down “ in light of the urgent economic pressures facing schools and the need to test the legitimacy of alternative funding sources” (Walker, 1996, p. 280).
Invariably, corporate involvement in education leads to conflicts over the access to and control of agendas. Educators have long had concerns with the nature of the business agenda in education and how the power of special interest groups might manifest itself in the goals and purposes of education. Some may argue that ability of professional educators to develop and implement curricula is at risk. “The integrated, broadly based teaching approach for reaching the whole child and enriching each child’s life opportunities is in danger. Education is seen as being reduced to training for employment and, more typically, to limited training for specific occupations” (Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, 1995, pp. 3-4).
External and Internal Influencers in Education
The notion of external influences is a particularly relevant issue when we examine corporate involvement in education. Community groups and business groups are the external influencers in public education. A developing paradigm in education is that of community-based education. Various constituencies have been identified as appropriate stakeholders in education including civic organisations, business organisations, labour groups, parents, the media, and taxpayers. Community-education relationships are viewed as a way for the schools to reach out into the community and to enhance student learning. Meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships are possible, however, there are those who have concerns about the nature of the relationships with stakeholders, the appropriate level of influence of the stakeholders, the manner in which they exercise their power, and the possible value conflicts between some of stakeholders, particularly corporations, and public education.
Influence Over Curricula
As schools move toward greater interaction with the community, many areas of conflict may arise between educators and community groups in the areas of instruction and curricula. Many of these links propose learning outside of the classroom and an increased integration of curriculum with the realities of the world of work. Significant areas of concern for the instructional leader are the supervision and evaluation of staff and programs offered through the auspices of these links and the possible value conflicts in business-education relationships.
The purposes and values of public education are most obviously articulated in the curriculum. As business provides resources to schools, there is a corresponding pressure exerted for schools to adapt the curriculum to address the concerns of work force training. Some may argue that business has the resources to disproportionately influence the political mechanisms for educational change. School systems may be concerned that corporate money that can be used to enhance student learning may challenge the integrity of the curriculum.
The question of who makes the decisions in education is complex. Curricula are determined in response to public and social demands, but those demands are indirectly applied through the democratic process and filtered through education and curricula specialists. Curricular change can be affected through advocacy. Currently, the voice of business and corporations is being well heard, but it is not the only constituency. Business is able to influence public opinion and parental opinion. Coalitions between concerned parent groups and business groups are being formed. In Alberta, for example, the Albertans for Quality Education have forged links with various business groups. “These connections between dissatisfied parents and dissatisfied employers are rooted in a shared desire to achieve private benefits from publicly funded education” (Taylor, 1999, p. 106). The emphasis on private benefits was clearly indicated by the Industry-Education Council (Hamilton-Wentworth) whose concerns were work force training and employability skills. “In our view, school improvement is ‘a process of reshaping the design and delivery of academic and career education so that it is more relevant and responsive to the needs of students and employers’” (O’Connor, 1996, p. x).
There is a need to balance the input from special interests, taxpayers, and educational specialists. Educational specialists generally develop and implement curricula using expert knowledge as well as guidance from democratically elected school Boards and legislative bodies. As we move toward greater interaction with various stakeholders, we can expect to see pressure exerted from these groups to influence curricula.
Currently many national concerns are economic and social, and in recent years, individuals and groups who have been able to play on these concerns have been able to influence curriculum priorities disproportionately. Such individuals and groups will likely continue to attempt to do so in the future. (Marsh & Willis, 1995, p. 321)Business groups have advocated for improved work force training and instruction in new technologies to address their future labour requirements. The emphasis on technology in public schools is an example of the disproportionate influence that business groups have enjoyed in education over the last twenty years.
Supervision and Instructional Issues
As well as issues of curriculum, corporate involvement in education raises issues of instruction. Does the contribution and partnership of a large corporation to a school mean that the truth about its human rights violations be overlooked? Does the contribution of a soft drink company to a school system mean that educators must re-evaluate the teaching of the health curriculum with regard to the corporation’s product? How do these kinds of questions affect instruction? These are fundamental questions about what is to be taught in the schools. Democracy allows for the public to determine, through the democratic process, which values and principles of education will guide our schools. Democracy does not allow for a decision on truth. “Truth is not democratic” (Strike, Haller, & Soltis, 1998, p. 97). Some educators have concerns that business-education relationships may interfere with the educator’s ability to teach the “truth” because of direct conflict with a private interest.
In developing instructional goals, instructional leaders need to be aware of power and influence exerted by various stakeholders. A school “should also be prepared to make its own decisions about what advice from external resources it should act upon and which advice it should reject” (Marsh & Willis, 1995, p.190). Instructional leaders need to be “people who can maintain a curriculum balance in terms of goals, subject matter, and learning activities, given the numerous special interest groups who wish to impose their brand of education on schools” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1998, p. 23).
Community-education relationships may assist in making more relevant, integrated learning experiences for students, but instructional leaders are reminded to proceed with caution. These relationships may affect curriculum, instruction, goals, and activities. A thorough examination of the effects of the relationship must be performed to ensure that it will not interfere with goals and vision of the school system.
Although there may be general agreement about the importance of education, there can be disparate views about the purposes, nature, and delivery of education. Relationships with community groups amplify the value conflicts. Begley (1999) argued that “such value conflicts have become particularly apparent as administrator perspectives increasingly run across the organizational boundaries that traditionally separated community from school…. These are social thresholds that have become increasingly transparent” (as cited in Begley & Leonard, 1999, p. 52).
Some may argue that there is a fundamental conflict in values between schools and the most controversial community partner, business. McMurtry (1998) stated that “as the principles of the global market are applied to public education, contradictions between the two systems are ignored” (p. 187). It has become apparent that market principles have gained a foothold in education. Competition between schools is a fact of life in the United States and the call for public accountability and the emergence of charter schools in Alberta, some may argue, has brought about the first step in developing education markets in Canada. McMurtry proposed that “the accepted way in which to gain market favour, to offend no one and no vested interest, is the most certain way to block critical inquiry and the search for the truth” (p.190). The purposes and mandates of business, labour, and education clearly differ in many respects. At the most basic level, schools are concerned with educating young people and preparing them for multiple possibilities and opportunities, while business is interested in maximising profits, competition, and market share.
Education’s key objective is to attend to the academic, skill, and developmental needs of students. The employment sector, on the other hand, is concerned with profit-making and maintaining the confidence of shareholders. This fundamental difference, and the resulting differences in organizational cultures, will always create a degree of friction. (O'Connor, 1996, p. 15)Business interests are private interests. This is not to say that there may not be a sense of altruism or philanthropy at play, but the bottom line is that business primarily views education as a mechanism for economic growth. Business is concerned with work-force training and economic results. In the past,
The curriculum has been used as a battleground for different business groups seeking to use the schools for their own economic purposes. . . . In seeking to maximize profits, employers may pressure schools to create an abundant pool of labor narrowly trained for their own benefit. (Marsh & Willis, 1995, p. 315)Determining specific value conflicts between corporations and schools is a difficult undertaking. Value conflicts may occur on different levels. There may be an incompatibility between the values of the school system and different elements of the business-education relationship. Obvious concerns may be found in relationships with corporations that produce controversial products or promote controversial lifestyles. “Some [parents or educators] may have concerns that raising funds at a casino expresses a tacit endorsement of a particular lifestyle. Thus, educators are under pressure to find sponsors whose products or services are in keeping with the cause of education” (Tymko, 1996, p. 13). Few educators or parents would agree to a partnership between a school and a tobacco company, but where there are less obvious differences in values, the decisions become more difficult. “The last few decades have seen increased societal concern about the level of ethical behaviour shown by corporations” (Walker, 1996, p. 278). The task of determining the ethical nature of a particular business has become increasingly difficult. Educators are faced with extensive research in order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion about the values and corporate practices of a particular business. “A thorough exposition would consider the interests and values of each stakeholder group and would identify any conflicts of interest that might result from the proposed relationship” (p. 282). School systems need to ask difficult questions. Where does the school system stand on labour disputes, downsizing, corporations moving labour to third world countries, and many other political, economic, or social questions?
Value conflicts between each school or school system and each corporation need to be determined. Value conflicts can occur in five different areas. The school system may have a value conflict with a business that: 1. produces a controversial product, 2. endorses a controversial lifestyle, 3. has unethical business practices, or 4. holds controversial political or philosophical beliefs. In each case, controversial means, that which is not compatible with the values of the school system. The fifth level of value conflict, some may argue, is the inappropriateness of the free market model as a part of the public education system.
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Catholic Church Perspectives on Corporate Involvement
The distinctiveness of Catholic education is a result of a focus on the gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In order for Catholic school systems to reflect the teachings of the Church, a thorough examination of the debates concerning capitalism and the free market is appropriate. Grace (1996) stated “ There is a fundamental tension, in the realm of education at least, between Catholic values and market values” (p. 70). The role of corporations in public education raises moral and ethical concerns. It is necessary to “evaluate critically the role of the corporate sector in Catholic schools in light of the Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church” (Hill, 1997, p.1). This is no easy task as there are many competing perspectives within the Catholic Church regarding the role of profit, property, and free enterprise in the context of a moral and ethical Catholic existence.
The Common Good
Novak (1993) indicated that the common good is a component of social justice that needs to be defined before an adequate definition of social justice can be agreed upon. The common good is a complex concept. It includes many elements that are dependent on the context in which it is used. A changing set of circumstances means a changing common good. For example, today, the common good may include a K-12 education, whereas that would not have been a valid assumption at other times in history. There is still a broad definition, of which I will make use for the sake of this study. Novak (1993) referred to the “formal content” (p. 84) of the common good. “Formally, the concept of the common good looks both to the social whole and to the dignity of each free person” (p. 84).
Capitalism and Catholicism
The voice of the Catholic Church regarding corporate involvement in education is less than explicit, but there are conclusions that may be drawn from its statements regarding capitalism and social justice. There is great debate in the Catholic Church on the efficiency of the free market or democratic capitalism to provide maximum benefit for humanity. Novak (1993) stated that “there has never been any question in this Pope’s [John Paul II] mind that democratic institutions, whatever their faults, are the best available protection for human rights. He now [in Centesimus Annus] added that capitalist virtues and institutions, whatever their faults, are the best available protection for democracy” (p. 125).
Liberation theologians, on the other hand, propose that capitalism is fundamentally flawed as an agent for social justice because it is exploitative by nature. Budde (1992) referred to this debate as “the core/periphery split” (p. 18). In peripheral Catholicism, which is prevalent in the Latin American Church, capitalism is seen as having “structural arrangements [which are] . . . sinful in their fundamentals” (p. 18). Peripheral Catholicism is often referred to as Liberation theology. Liberation theology interprets the gospel message as a call for “the elimination of the capitalist world economy” (p. 18), while core Catholicism, which is pre-eminent in North America, “believes the capitalist world economy from which it has benefited so greatly can be reformed” (p. 18). Budde (1992) indicates that this split is profound, in that, “it involves broad sections (liberal and conservative) within peripheral and core Catholicism and has potentially momentous consequences for the future of both regions and of world Catholicism” (p. 18).
Let us assume, for a moment, that core Catholicism typifies Catholic thinking in North America. Capitalism may be seen as the best available vehicle for the advancement of social justice, but the Church places value limits on capitalism. Pope John Paul II (1991) warned that:
There is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces. (#42)Capitalism, in the core Catholic perspective, still requires analysis to identify abuses in the system. Individual elements of capitalism need to be regulated to ensure that they serve the common good. McGovern (1981) indicated that, following this logic, the failings of capitalism are “seen to lie with greedy, individual capitalists and not with the system itself” (p. 7).
Economic Justice and Poverty
The social teachings of the Catholic Church are explicit, even if there is general disagreement about the type of economic and political systems that are appropriate to bring about the common good. “It is imperative that the social teachings of the Catholic Church act as a foundation upon which partnerships between Catholic schools and the business community are built” (Hill, 1997, p. 27). As explained previously, capitalism is not necessarily at odds with Catholicism, at least in the view of some writers, however, it is incumbent on Catholics to carefully investigate and analyse capitalist systems to ensure compliance with moral and ethical norms.
A complete analysis of the situation of the world today shows in an even deeper and fuller way the meaning of the previous analysis of social injustices; and it is the meaning that must be given today to efforts to build justice on earth, not concealing thereby unjust structures but demanding that they be examined and transformed on a more universal scale. (John Paul II, 1981, #9)This statement points to a responsibility for those educators who choose to participate in business-education relationships, not only to ensure the ethical nature of the relationship but also, the ethical practices of the business and the ethical nature of the system in which it operates.
This is by no means a simple task. The nature of trade and markets is becoming increasingly global. It may be nearly impossible to identify all the elements of a corporation and make a determination of the ethical practices of all of its parts. It is clear, however, that businesses have an obligation to investigate to their best ability the ethical nature of all elements of their business. It is also clear that the Catholic Church directs Catholics to do the same.
Pope John Paul II (1987) further suggested that Catholics must investigate the interrelationships between businesses, suppliers, and governments at national, provincial, and local levels. This is an important point. Many corporations have a local face, in that, they try to make connections with the local community. Catholics are urged to look beyond their local context and to examine all of the interrelationships that exist between a particular local business and their activities and impact in the rest of the world. “In the first place a possible misunderstanding has to be eliminated. Recognition that the ‘social question’ has assumed a world wide dimension does not at all mean that it has lost its incisiveness or its national and local importance” (#9).
Implications for Policy in Catholic School Systems
Policy development in Catholic education must consider issues of the public trust, the common good, and the social teachings of the Church in order to arrive at policy that reflects the values of Catholic education. The obligations to the social teachings of the Church, the common good, and the public trust must be balanced against public and private interest. Figure 1 illustrates the considerations that must be taken into account in policy development. It indicates that policy is guided by constituent demands and the values of the school system. Catholic school systems maintain obligations to the social teachings of the Church, the common good, and the public trust. It is these obligations which guide the formation of values for corporate involvement in Catholic education, which, in turn, guide the formation of beliefs and principles. At the same time, Catholic school systems must respond to private and public interests. These constituent demands can be incorporated into policy when constituent demands and the values of the school system are compatible; value conflict is the result when constituent demands and the values of the school system are incompatible. A policy for corporate involvement in Catholic education can only be tenable if there is compatibility between the values of the school system and the constituent demands. Policy models from other school systems can be used to guide the development of new policy.
Figure 1. Conceptual framework of the factors involved in policy development for corporate invovlement in Catholic education.
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Part II: Policy Development For Corporate Involvement
The Action Research Cycle
Figure 2 shows the typical iterative action research cycle with its stages of observing, reflecting, planning, and acting. It may be useful to re-conceptualise this cycle so that a research phase may start with the action research stage of acting, or planning, or reflecting as occurred during this study.
Figure 2. The three action research phases of this study.
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Descriptive Phase: Extent of Corporate Involvement in the School System
The first phase of this action research study was descriptive. The goal of this phase was to collect information on the context of the study and to prepare for the final acting stage of the descriptive phase. It included the action research stages of observing, reflecting, and planning. It was necessary to examine what is already occurring in the school system and to examine the issues, values, and value conflicts that were at play in the area of corporate involvement in Catholic education.
Prior to the study, I contacted administrators in the school system and proposed a research methodology that would assist the School Board to form a policy for business-education relationships. I identified the following areas as key to this study:
I met with the Superintendent following the descriptive research phase to discuss subsequent research. This discussion pointed to a need for the Board members to articulate their preliminary beliefs and understandings about corporate involvement in the school system. It was necessary to present specific value areas to the Board members so that they could respond individually. I would then compile and synthesise the Board members’ statements to arrive at a preliminary statement of principles and to identify areas that would require further discussion.
I identified key issues in corporate involvement in Catholic education from the literature, the school system’s draft policy, and other sample policies that had been collected, and divided the issues into the five value areas. These value areas were:
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The synthesis of the Board members’ responses corresponded with the observing stage of the second action research phase. This synthesis reflected Board members’ preliminary belief statements regarding corporate involvement in Catholic education. The Board members’ written responses to the questions were recorded verbatim, randomised, and recorded on a master response list. Responses were then synthesised for each question, and finally, each section was synthesised and themes were developed for each of the five areas. Board members were given the syntheses so that they could consider the responses of the group for further discussion during subsequent research phases.
Observing and Reflecting
Board members asked for and were provided with a summary of research on corporate involvement in Catholic education, two sample policy documents from other school districts, a preliminary typology of community-education relationships, and types of value conflicts for their consideration before their next meeting.
Appreciative Inquiry: Building a Rationale
The purpose of the subsequent meeting with the Board was to elicit a rationale for business-education relationships from the Board members. An “Appreciative Inquiry” methodology was used to develop an “umbrella” statement that would identify a rationale for business-education for the Board members and for this school system.
Board members were asked to conduct an interview with one other Board member using the following questions.
Their provocative statements were synthesised, together with elements from other existing policies to arrive at the following provocative statement:
We believe that relationships between the business community and the school division can provide opportunities to expand limited resources that will impact positively on the education of the children in its schools. We believe that business and community agencies have a desire to enhance the quality of life in their communities through reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationships with education. We seek and promote relationships in which integrity and mutual respect are evident.Board members’ provocative statements contained two components. The first component focused on the value of community and business involvement in the school system in terms of financial benefit for the school system, the positive effect on the education of children, and the positive benefit for community groups. The second component of the statements included a caveat that business-education relationships must reflect the values of respect and integrity, while two of the statements referred to Catholic or Gospel values.
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Prospective Phase: Affirming Principles
The last scheduled meeting with the Board was used for affirming the principles synthesised in the Delphi activity, affirming the rationale synthesised from the Appreciative Inquiry, and examining the areas that required further discussion. Board members were presented with the synthesised statements from the previous meetings and asked to discuss or respond to each statement. For the most part, the responses were expressions of agreement. This is not surprising since Board members were presented with statements that reflected the areas in which there was preliminary agreement and since these statements were similar to the synthesised statements from the first two activities.
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Action research is practitioner research that focuses on relationships, inclusion, and participant experiences (Stringer, 1999). It is, therefore, critical to examine the perceptions of participants in the process and to consider their reflections when determining the efficacy of the process in policy development. Two administrators were interviewed and Board members completed a questionnaire about their experiences in this action research study.
The administrators were asked to comment on the efficacy of the action research process in this situation. They felt that this process allowed for all Board members to express their ideas and beliefs on this subject, this is not always the case with this Board. One administrator stated that the Board had been dealing unsuccessfully with this issue for several years and “without this process, we [the school system] wouldn’t be where we are.” The Board usually appoints committees to deal with these issues and return with recommendations. This process proved to be ineffective and as one superintendent stated “the people on the committees often disagreed with their own recommendations.” One superintendent indicated that this process marked the first time that the Board members have worked on their own. In the past, the superintendents directed any group work that was required. The superintendents indicated that this process “engaged all of the Board members at some level, in all stages.” One superintendent suggested that because the Board members saw the research facilitator as an “outsider” they believed that I was impartial and was not carrying a political agenda.
The administrators indicated that there are limitations to action research when it involves Board members. The Board members were provided with reading materials following each meeting, however, the administrators speculated that not all Board members read the materials and prepared for the meetings. One superintendent noted that “it is not reasonable to expect them [Board members] to function at the same level as practitioners or administrators. . . . We [administrators] make assumptions about their base knowledge. . . . They [Board members] need time to become knowledgeable about the issues.” The administrators argued that Board members have many issues to consider and they need to be given the time to read background material and do their own research. Further, Board members often do not understand the rationale behind some of the issues they face and some of the educational solutions offered by teachers and administrators. One superintendent stated “they [Board members] don’t know the big picture [and] not all of them are keenly interested in each issue. They are interested in issues that intersect the worlds in which they live.”
Board Members’ Reflections
Board members completed a survey about the action research process and its personal effect on them. They were asked to respond to questions pertaining to the value of the process in policy development, the diversity of perspectives represented, the inclusiveness of the process, communication, and the role of the researcher. The Board members spoke positively of the process. Board members responded that this process allowed for the perspectives of all stakeholders to be represented. They thought that all contributions and perspectives were valued equally and that they experienced full and meaningful participation. They indicated that the background materials and research summaries provided to them were useful and that the researcher was “neutral.” One Board member stated the researcher “explained but did not influence.” One Board member suggested that the action research process “seemed to be somewhat prolonged.” The prospective phase gave the Board members the opportunity to further revise and affirm a theory of action in which the constraints of public interest, private interest, the public trust, Catholic social teaching, and the common good all play an integral part.
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Part III: Summary, Conclusions, and Implications
The purpose of this action research study was to examine the policy “problem” of corporate involvement in Catholic education and the moral and ethical dilemmas that relationships between business and a Catholic school system might present. The values and principles that govern these relationships are derived from influences and obligations that act upon a Catholic school system. Public and private interests influence and affect policy at the governmental, school system, and school level. At the same time, Catholic school systems have obligations to uphold the public trust, consider and contribute to the common good, and support and promote the social teachings of the Catholic Church.
All business-education relationships are not equal and it is policy that must address the issues inherent in these relationships and determine the values that govern them. This study used a collaborative approach to identifying, clarifying, and focusing pertinent principles to regulate business-education relationships in this school system.
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The descriptive, evaluative, and prospective research phases provided a framework to develop the content for a draft policy on corporate involvement in this school system. The acting stage of the action research cycle included the use of a Delphi technique to articulate a preliminary set of principles, Appreciative inquiry to develop a rationale for corporate involvement, and a planning meeting to resolve outstanding issues and affirm principles. These activities and the subsequent action research stages of observing, reflecting, and planning resulted in elements of the draft policy on corporate involvement (Appendix C).
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Issues in Corporate Involvement: Conclusions
Types of Business-Education Relationships
A typology of community-education relationships was presented to Board members and administrators. I developed this typology from one included in O’Connor (1996) in which he identified three types of employer-education relationships. In addition, I included other types of relationships that the school system already employs. In the case of community/service affiliations, although they are not business education relationships, they do intersect with the partnership in education program and need to be addressed in policy. Three main types of relationships that will have to be addressed in the development of the administrative procedures are commercial relationships, sponsorship relationships, and partnership relationships.
Policy Implications of the Different Types of Relationships
Commercial relationships, sponsorships, and partnerships are governed by the principles stated in the draft policy on corporate involvement. There are implications for the different types that are not addressed in the policy but are important considerations in the development of administrative procedures. The typology was presented to the Board members to adequately frame their discussions and to assist in addressing diverse relationships.
Procedures will be established at a later date and are not within the scope of this study; however, the administration has been provided with a typology of relationships that will be incorporated into their administrative procedures for business-education relationships. I expect that this typology will be important in the development of administrative procedures, as each different type requires a discreet process for the development, maintenance, and evaluation of these relationships.
Value conflicts between business and Catholic education can occur at many levels. The school system may have a value conflict with a business that: 1. produces a controversial product, 2. endorses a controversial lifestyle, 3. has unethical business practices, or 4. holds controversial political or philosophical beliefs. In each case, controversial means ‘that which is not compatible with the values of the school system.’
Another level of value conflict, some may argue, is the inappropriateness of the free market model as a part of the public education system (McMurtry, 1998). This is a value conflict that many Board members and administrators ignore as the funding dilemmas increasingly necessitate that school systems look for ways to make connections with business to provide funding that traditionally was provided by governments.
Mediating Value Conflicts through Policy
Policy must articulate the pertinent values of the school system and anticipate how values may be compromised in relationships with business. The values of a Catholic school system are guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church (Hill, 1997). This provides the school system with an ethical framework that is generally agreed upon by the Board members, administrators, and employees. These Board members, who see the role of their school system as providing a distinctly Catholic education that reflects the teachings of the Catholic Church, saw these value conflicts as self-evident. Put another way, the necessity of providing for diverse perspectives in a non-sectarian public school system is lessened in this school system, which represents one religious tradition.
Moral and Ethical Constraints in Business-Education Relationships
Catholic schools have moral and ethical constraints that differ from those of secular public schools. Birth control and abortion are two areas where Catholic schools must reflect the values of Catholic doctrine. Clearly, businesses that take positions contrary to the Catholic Church on these issues cannot enter into relationships with Catholic schools (Hill, 1997).
Other areas of Catholic social teaching are not necessarily strictly Catholic beliefs, but are interpreted through Church doctrine. Most people, regardless of their religious traditions, would uphold the dignity of the human person, but it is Catholic social teaching that situates those values for a Catholic school system. The Church prescribes the moral and ethical constraints, as well as responsibility for Catholics and Catholic organisations. The school system has an obligation to investigate violations of the Church’s social teachings, to act accordingly, and to speak out against injustice (John Paul II, 1987, #41).
Developing and Maintaining Business-Education Relationships in Catholic Education
Hill (1997) states “it is imperative that the social teachings of the Catholic Church act as a foundation upon which partnerships between Catholic schools and the business community are built” (p. 27). Board members in this school system identified the social teachings of the Church and then developed principles that reflected those teachings to govern business-education relationships. It is essential that Catholic school systems identify core beliefs before establishing business-education relationships. Many school systems attempt to align business-education relationships with their mission statement. This is insufficient. The discourse that occurred as a result of the action research process in this context, made it clear that the onus is on the school systems to examine the component beliefs of Catholic teaching and discover how each of the tenets of the faith might be affirmed or contravened by relationships with business. It also made clear that without investigation and a clear framework for inquiry, Board members are ill prepared to make determinations of whether a particular relationship aligns with the mission statement. Policy that explicitly establishes the principles and goals of business-education relationships allows for business involvement that reflects the core beliefs of the school system.
Unanimity and Diversity of Thought on Business-Education Relationships
There are two diverse areas of thought on this issue: political and theological. The theological debate centres on the critique of capitalism by Liberation theologians and the advocacy of capitalism by core Catholic theologians. Liberation theology interprets the gospel message as a call for “the elimination of the capitalist world economy” (Budde, 1992, p. 18), while core Catholicism, which is pre-eminent in North America, “believes the capitalist world economy from which it has benefited so greatly can be reformed” (p. 18). Liberation Theology sees capitalist economic structures as fundamentally exploitative, while North American Catholicism views capitalism as the best economic system available (Budde, 1992; Novak, 1993). The Board members were introduced to, but did not explore this debate. The underlying assumptions of the Board members were that business-education relationships are both necessary and desirable and the Board members were, therefore, predisposed to core Catholic thinking. The financial constraints faced by these policy practitioners dictate that their policy solution allow for access to the alternative funding that business can provide to education. There is; however, a unanimity of Catholic thought concerning a commitment to the common good. The unanimity of Catholic thought is reflected in the Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education (Appendix B) (Hill, 1997) and in the Board of Education’s draft policy, which borrows generously from the aforementioned document.
Diversity of thought occurs also through the political views of the Board members. One Board member took an aggressively pro-business position. This Board member defended any criticism of the business agenda or motivation, while several Board members with a communitarian philosophy took the position of defending the under-privileged of their communities. These competing positions were mediated through my presentation of the underlying positive motivations and the constraints of each position (see Appendix D) (Robinson, 1993).
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Mediating Corporate Involvement through Policy
The purpose of this study was to explore the debates surrounding business-education relationships in Catholic education, to determine if a balance can be found, and to determine if this balance can be mediated through policy. Increasingly, school systems have come to depend on business-education relationships to assist in the financing of school operations (Tymko, 1996). I suggest that the position taken by those who oppose such relationships cannot be mediated in school system policy. This is not to say that this position is untenable, only that school system policy cannot address this issue. This is a position that must be addressed through the restoration of government funding levels for public education and through the development of the political will to address the chronic under-funding of public education.
The mediation of the other debates in business-education relationships, which include: value conflicts, obligation to the common good, obligation to the public trust, and adherence to the social teachings of the Catholic Church, can be mediated through policy. By examining the influences and obligations that act upon Catholic school system (Figure 1), core values can be determined. These values are articulated in this school system’s draft policy.
This study examined the efficacy of action research in policy making. Action research as a methodology for the exploration of the debates, collaborative problem solving, and the building of consensus is highly effective in mediating contentious issues such as corporate involvement in education.
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Implications For Practice
If Boards of Education are to participate in action research, administrative time and effort are required. Board members are policy practitioners, but this does not necessarily mean that they will have the expertise required to adequately address policy problems. Action research requires a research facilitator. In most cases, this will be the Director of Education or the Superintendent. School Boards must be provided with current research on the subject and must be given the time to “do” the policy research.
The role of consultants or research facilitators in policy development is key. Policy practitioners require more than a Board or committee chairperson to direct their research. Meaningful research requires actual expertise. This school system has several superintendents, each of whom could work as a research facilitator on one or two issues a year. It would be important to further study the administrators’ role in policy practitioner research.
It is important that the research facilitator have the opportunity for a detailed debriefing with administrators and Board members after each iteration of the action research cycle. Action research for policy development would benefit from a pre-conference/post-conference with participants.
The use of research synthesis and discussion as a mode of reflection in the action research cycle is significant. Board members are often adept at discussion. This can be, and was, in this case, a detriment to policy development. The syntheses were an effective way to focus reflection and to diffuse the political discussions and impasses that often follow, when dealing with difficult policy issues.
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Research is required to determine what kinds of issues or topics are appropriate for practitioner research. Some issues may, in fact, be too broad or too insignificant to consider action research in addressing them. Research also needs to be undertaken to determine if practitioner research is effective in the development of administrative procedures.
It would be important to know what kinds of Board member characteristics play a part in policy practitioner research. This study indicated a need to understand the culture of the group before attempting some group activities. Research that would identify other group or individual characteristics that would affect the efficacy of action research in policy development is warranted.
The notion of Board members as policy practitioners requires further research. It is necessary that Board members have more than opinions on the issues. Developing expertise in policy practitioners needs to be considered.
This action research study depended on the participation of one school Board and one school system. Further research needs to be done to establish generalizablity to other Catholic school systems or to public school systems.
The major substantive issue that needs to be explored is the effect of partnership, sponsorship, or commercial relationships on attitudes, perceptions, and the education of children. It has been a contention of much educational research that business-education relationships establish meaningful links with other sectors, and it has been a contention of many school systems that these relationships do not adversely affect the education of children. There is much research to be done to refute or verify these assertions.
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The purpose of this study was to explore the debates surrounding current trends for increasing corporate involvement in Catholic education, to examine the ethical and moral constraints, and to investigate the ways in which policy can mediate the debate. Problem-based methodology was used to analyse the Board members’ theories of action, their espoused theories, and the theory-in-use. A constraint structure for corporate involvement in the school system was identified to determine the theories of action of the Board. The key constraints were public interest, private interest, the public trust, the social teachings of the Catholic Church, and the common good. From the constraint structure, a policy was formulated that addressed the key constraints and the secondary constraints that were germane to corporate involvement in Catholic education.
This study examined the efficacy of action research in policy development. This study examined practitioner research in policy design and explored the role of Board of Education members as policy practitioners. There are implications for administrators and Boards of Education of other school systems from this approach to policy development. Administrators and school system employees can develop the research skills necessary to become research facilitators on a number of policy issues and Board members can work as researchers to address the most contentious policy problems and arrive at satisfactory policy solutions.
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Appendix A: Conference Board of Canada Guidelines
Ethical Guidelines for Business-Education Partnerships
Canadian employers and educators support business-education partnerships that:
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Appendix B: Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education
Questions of ethical, social, and pedagogical import associated with
corporate involvement in Catholic schools are numerous and often complex
in nature. In order to address critically the issues, the questions to
follow have been categorized according to seven principles of Catholic
social teaching. The questions are intended to initiate within the Catholic
Community a critical discourse on the issues addressed in this report.
What are the elements of a dignified human existence?
What does the sacredness of humanity imply?
What is the relationship between human dignity and labour?
What features of Catholic education address specifically the dignity of the human person?
What are some fundamental human rights?
According to Catholic social teaching, what is the relationship between violations of human rights and the responsibilities of members of the Catholic Community?
How are human rights protected in the workplace?
What should members of the Catholic education community do to ensure that human rights are protected in the workplace?
Do you believe people are social by nature?
How can we preserve our sense of authenticity as individual subjects and be active members of our community?
How is the process of education regarded as a social process? Who are the key members of a school community?
What role should members of the business community play in the dynamics of Catholic education?
What is meant by the expression the common good?
How can the Catholic education community serve the common good?
If a member of the business community conducts business ventures contrary to the interests of the common good, should the business enterprise be involved actively in Catholic education?
What forms of corporate involvement in schools contradict the nature and purpose of Catholic education?
How does Catholic social teaching relate solidarity to forms of social
With whom should members of the Catholic education community join in solidarity?
What are some primary reasons for joining in solidarity with other members of the local community?
What forms of solidarity between Catholic schools and the corporate community would contradict the nature and purpose of Catholic education?
What kinds of solidarity with the business community would best meet the needs of the Catholic school community?
Define the term poverty.
Which social groups in Canadian society are most likely to live in poverty? What role should Catholic schools play in reducing poverty in society?
How could partnerships between Catholic schools and the business community address the pressing issue of poverty in Canadian society?
Explain the role of some important voluntary groups in your community.
How are community organizations normally structured and operated? What are their primary concerns? How is decision-making power distributed in each organization?
How could community organizations contribute positively to the dynamics of Catholic education?
As an integral part of the Catholic school community, what role should the corporate sector play in the schooling process?
What measures can a Catholic school community take to better inform itself of the nature and purpose of partnership programs?
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Appendix C: Constraint For Corporate Involvement
Figure 3. The constraint structure for corporate involvement in Catholic education.
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Appendix D: Sample Mediation Through Dialectic
Figure 4. The dialectic of equal access to alternative funding.
(adapted from Robinson, V.M., 1993, p 90)
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Appendix E: Draft
|Relationships between the business community and the school division
can provide opportunities to expand resources that benefit the education
of children. Further, we believe that businesses desire to enhance the
quality of life in their communities through reciprocal, mutually beneficial
relationships with the education sector. We seek and promote relationships
in which integrity and mutual respect are evident.
Table 1. Draft policy for corporate involvement in the school system.
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