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While Policymakers Do Little, Marketers Are Busy in Schools

NEPC releases 16th annual report
on Schoolhouse Commercialism Trends


William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,
Alex Molnar, (480) 797-7261,

URL for this press release:

BOULDER, CO (March 11, 2014) -- Schoolhouse commercialism continues virtually unabated, despite the harm it does, and neither federal nor state lawmakers are moving to further control the practice, according to a new report released today.

The pervasiveness of commercialism in education has become so broad, its threat so great, and its reported benefits so minor that the report’s authors call on policymakers to ban any such activity unless an independent, disinterested body can certify that it does not harm children’s education.

The recommendation is contained in Schoolhouse Commercialism Leaves Policymakers Behind – The Sixteenth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism: 2012-2013. The report is published today by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

This year’s report, by Professor Alex Molnar along with Faith Boninger, Joseph Fogarty, and Ken M. Libby, is the latest produced by Professor Molnar, who has been studying schoolhouse commercialism for more than two decades. Molnar, Boninger and Libby are all affiliated with the CU Boulder. Fogarty is principal of Corballa National School in County Sligo, Ireland.

At the root of the threat commercialism poses to education is its very nature, the authors write. Commercialism is “a value system that promotes profit above all other concerns and that seeks to transform all relationships into commodities that can be exchanged for money,” they point out. Consequently  it “poses profound threats to the well-being of children and the civic purposes of public education.”

Given the threats of its harm, lawmakers and other policymakers, including school officials themselves, might be expected move forcefully to rein it in, they write – yet they have not done so. The authors suggest a combination of reasons for that: fierce corporate opposition to such legislative or regulatory restrictions, and lack of concern, particularly on the part of the education sector itself.

“Stakeholders at all levels tend to cast school participation in marketing programs as a constructive way to raise money and to conceptualize business as a valuable school partner that can  ‘give back’ funds to local communities, contribute to training the next generation of workers, and help schools and teachers function more effectively,” the authors write. Yet the evidence, they continue, “suggests that schools receive little net benefit from commercializing activities.”

That has not prevented the education system from continuing to grant corporate marketers “widespread access to students,” they write. Marketers employ this access through mechanisms that range from delivering marketing messages through appropriated school space and property to a variety of other strategies: exclusive marketing agreements in schools; school-connected digital communications, including some that harvest student data; incentives to purchase particular branded products; sponsorship of school programs and activities; production of supplemental educational material that promotes specific brands, products, or corporate interests; and assorted fundraising schemes.

While lawmakers and educators have shown little interest in restricting these practices, advocacy groups have become increasingly aware of the threats such practices pose to children and to education, the authors note – particularly where nutrition and personal privacy are concerned.

That awareness is valuable, Molnar and his coauthors conclude, but it is not sufficient. In the face of the threats commercialism poses to the health and well-being of students and to school educational programs themselves, much more direct action is needed: a presumptive ban on commercializing activities in schools outright.

Any commercializing activity that will be permitted, they conclude, should be done only after “an independent, disinterested, publically funded, entity certifies that a proposed commercializing activity will cause no harm to children or otherwise undermine the quality of their education.”

Find Schoolhouse Commercialism Leaves Policymakers Behind – The Sixteenth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism: 2012-2013, by Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger, Ken M. Libby and Joseph Fogarty, on the web at:

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on NEPC, please visit