Scholastic responds to complaints

In a post a little over a week ago I noted my disappointment that Scholastic, a company with a long history in the education market, was selling its credibility by offering to “promote client objectives” by distributing packages to schoolchildren that “make a difference by influencing attitudes and behaviors.” As I said, the “clients” here are corporations with money to pay for Scholastics’ services, and the attitudes and behaviors in question are apparently those of young kids.

I’ve since received an email from someone at Scholastic passing on a statement on the subject issued Thursday by Scholastic’s chairman, president, and CEO, Richard Robinson. The good news is that Scholastic, having caught a lot of flak for distributing a slanted package of allegedly educational information from the American Coal Foundation on paper and on line, has withdrawn said package. They have also set up a “partner review board” to vet future content for accuracy and impartiality.

I wish I could say with confidence that Scholastic has cleaned up its act, but it’s by no means clear. They’re still going to be distributing corporate-sponsored materials as “educational” content, and I’m not sure that it helps to have them labeled as objective by Scholastic’s own “review board.” Maybe the content will be balanced and accurate; I can’t say for sure, but as far as I can see, Scholastic’s own past assurance to corporate clients that they could pay Scholastic to “influence attitudes and behaviors” isn’t repudiated in Robinson’s statement. Here it is, unedited:

At Scholastic, we recognize that teachers, parents and students have
extremely high expectations for all materials we distribute in
schools. We take that responsibility seriously, not only for the
hundreds of millions of pages we produce through our Education
division and Classroom Magazines, but also for the far smaller number
of sponsored supplemental materials produced with partners through our
InSchool business. Several months ago, we announced that we were
reviewing our policies and procedures for sponsored materials to
ensure that we only produce the very best quality supplemental
educational materials that teachers can choose to use to enrich their
teaching. To date, Scholastic has taken the following steps regarding
the InSchool business:

First, we are focusing on working only with a carefully selected list
of non-profit, corporate and government partners, each of whom who
will be vetted by a newly formed Partner Review Board. This reduction
primarily in the pool of corporate partners will likely result in
about 40% fewer programs this year;
Second, we are appointing a Partner Review Board consisting of a
curriculum editor, a teacher, a school administrator, a child
psychologist, and a parenting expert to evaluate potential partners
and review the content of sponsored programs;
Third, we are strengthening the editorial review of sponsored
supplemental educational content and putting additional checks in
place to ensure the accuracy and impartiality of the content,
including final approval by the Partner Review Board.

These actions are being taken following the withdrawal of “Shedding
Light on Energy,” a supplemental program sponsored by the American
Coal Foundation. We acknowledged problems with that program and
conducted a thorough review of all of our recent sponsored materials.
It is noteworthy that feedback from educators on an array of different
programs was overwhelmingly complimentary and pointed out to us that
these programs provide valuable information for teachers and students
that is not otherwise available.

It is our firm belief that education today needs support from all
sectors — public and private — and we welcome the opportunity to
make curriculum-aligned, free content available to our nation’s
teachers. Partner programs enable schools to receive quality, free
supplemental educational materials for teachers, schools and students;
tens of thousands of free books and millions of dollars in scholarship
and grants. This is one small part of what Scholastic does. The
overwhelming amount of our business is focused on helping students
learn to read and love to read – critical parts of 21st Century
literacy. Our commitment is to ensure the highest standard of
excellence in all of our materials for use in the classroom and beyond
– a commitment that, over the last 90 years of hard work by our
committed staff, has built our reputation as “the most trusted name
in learning.”

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