Corporate funding in public education – is anyone watching?


California’s new environmental education program, the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI), is another victim of the state budget crisis.  Although the K-12 program was developed with state funding, the state is not providing further support.  In order to implement EEI, the program is soliciting $22 million in outside funding from governmental, business, and philanthropic sources.  We’ve been looking into this issue out of concern for the ramifications of increasing private, particularly corporate, sponsorship of public education, and for the lack of oversight by outside groups.

The Education and the Environment Initiative will have a wide reach; it is being positioned to serve as a national model, and the new standardized K-12 environmental curriculum will reach 6.2 million students statewide and “countless families, communities, and businesses in our state and beyond.”  In a previous post, we discussed the state energy reader (“The Energy Source Buffet”), which downplays the impacts of burning fossil fuels and doesn’t address climate change.  We received a response from the California EPA, and are continuing to research the program and the issue of corporate funding in education.

Corporate funding in science education is widespread in California and nationwide, and in energy education specifically, a number of large energy corporations and industry associations have produced their own materials for distribution in schools.  Large corporate energy interests have made substantial investments in K-12 education programs, giving out grants, bringing teachers to conferences and workshops for training, and handing out classroom materials, all without significant oversight by environmental non-profit or watchdog organizations of the ramifications for curriculum content.

In one major example, Chevron Corporation is a large funder of science education and “community engagement investments” in California.  Through Chevron’s California Partnership, an initiative announced in 2009, “more than 20 nonprofit organizations and multiple public school districts across California have received investments,” totaling approximately $28 million.  In one example, Chevron awarded $1 million to community development organizations in Richmond, California, the site of one of its oil refineries that has been in “high priority violation” of Clean Air Act compliance standards since at least 2006 and has had disproportionately high health impacts on Richmond residents.

Chevron is also a sponsor of the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED), a nationwide program working to “provide energy education curriculum and training to every appropriate classroom in the nation.”  The project has been in existence for 30 years, and is sponsored by a range of energy interests, including large energy corporations and industry groups like BP, ConocoPhillips, the American Petroleum Institute, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Halliburton.

Supported by a grant from BP’s A+ for Energy Program, NEED’s California program provides educators with access to grants, NEED training, and NEED curriculum.  BP and NEED hosted seven Energy Conferences for Educators in 2005.

Chevron has also purchased and is promoting “Energy4Me” energy education materials “presented by” the Society of Petroleum Engineers for distribution in schools.  The “Energy4Me” kit includes classroom activities and presentations, teaching aids, and speaker resources.  Materials are available free to teachers when an “energy professional gives a classroom presentation,” or when teachers attend a “science teacher professional development workshop,” with substitute reimbursement provided.  Teachers can also be provided with the “Oil and Natural Gas” book, which “shows kids how petroleum and natural gas shapes our world,” or an “Energy Sources of the World!” booklet that discusses the pros and cons of different energy sources.

Materials from this energy education module were distributed by Chevron representatives at the recent California Science Teachers’ Association conference. The front of the “Energy Sources of the World!” booklet reads: “A Gift from the People of Chevron.”

The ramifications of corporate energy funding in academic research have been studied and written about recently, but to our knowledge the same scrutiny hasn’t been extended to the influence of corporate money in K-12 education programs, at least outside of the professional education community.  Should “gifts from Chevron” be anywhere near the classroom?  The conflict of interest involved in for-profit corporations sponsoring education programs in subject matters coinciding with their business interests is clear, but the issue hasn’t been fleshed out, especially with more nuanced cases like EEI, where corporate support will come after the program has been developed.  We’ll be continuing to write about EEI as an example of this dynamic in action, and welcome any feedback.

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4 Responses to Corporate funding in public education – is anyone watching?

  1. C. Johnson says:

    I am disappointed to see California’s Environmental program funded by Chevron and BP. If you follow the materials website it brings you to a coal and gas promotion website for education, although this education can be valuable, it is hardly what we should be focusing on in California. They follow it up with a “kit” that has no substance. It certainly does not discuss all forms of ENERGY.

    CSW response to C. Johnson: To clarify, Chevron and BP haven’t funded EEI. EEI was developed with state support, and will be seeking private and public support from other sources going forward. The “Energy Sources of the World” kit was produced by the Society for Petroleum Engineers and has been purchased for distribution by Chevron; we’re pointing to it as an example of corporate-funded energy education material, but it’s not being used by the state program.

  2. Michael Roa says:

    I am happy to see that Climate Science Watch is paying attention to instructional materials being produced for use in schools. As the person whose name is listed as author on Energy: It’s Not All the Same to You!, which is the unit that includes “The Energy Source Buffet,” I would like to
    clarify some points from the December 23 posting. (I say that I am “listed as the author” because the final version of the document underwent much revision after I submitted it.) I applaud your goals and hope that CSW wants to provide your readers with accurate information.

    1) First: “The Energy Source Buffet” is a small booklet that is one of eleven parts of a unit of study whose use is optional. It is not what one would normally think of as a “textbook.” A textbook is usually hundreds of pages long and is used as the basis for a semester’s or a year’s course of study. This booklet is intended for use in two or three lessons, and to call it a textbook is, in my opinion, misleading.

    2) The implication of the posting is that I, as the initial author of the unit, was inappropriately influenced by Chevron Corporation, BP, or the Society of Petroleum Engineers, specifically by Chevron funding or by the Energy4Me curriculum kit. Here are the facts with regards to Chevron, BP, Energy4Me and my writing:

    a. I have never received any funding from Chevron, BP, or the Society of Petroleum Engineers. While writing Energy: It’s Not All the Same to You!, I used information from many sources, including the NEED materials and many others. However, I used the NEED materials with the full knowledge that they were produced by the energy industry. I also used materials written by environmental groups and materials written by “neutral” parties. Had I known of materials produced by CSW, I would have also used them in my research.

    b. Part of my assignment was to write material that neither advocated for nor against any particular energy source. As a long-time environmental educator, with a bias towards renewable energy sources, I found that most difficult.

    c. After seeing Chevron, BP, and Energy4Me emphasized and linked to me by insinuation in your posting, I recently went to the Energy4Me web site. I don’t think that I had ever seen the materials before, although in my 40 years as an environmental educator I have seen many materials. I contacted the folks at Energy4Me and was told that:

    i. The first Energy4Me web site was launched in May of 2007. By that time, I had done much of my writing for the EEI. Again, I don’t think that I even knew of the materials when I wrote for the EEI.

    ii. The Oil and Gas book was first distributed in January of 2008. Since I submitted my material in September of 2007, it is impossible that the Energy4Me Oil and Gas book influenced my writing. (I still haven’t seen it.)

    iii. The Energy4Me kit, which is written about in your posting and which you imply influenced my writing for the EEI, was not made available until September, 2008, a full year after I submitted my materials.

    Between September, 2007, when I submitted my writing, and late 2010, when the units became “final,” they went through eight layers of review and revision, including an extensive period for public comment and input.

    In your December 23 posting, you say that the coal section of “The Energy Source Buffet” booklet contains the statement “more carbon dioxide can lead to warmer temperatures on Earth.” That was the wording in an earlier draft, but the November 2 letter points out that the draft of the booklet was changed so that it now reads “Carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat, warming the Earth. More Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere warms the Earth more.” While not exactly an indictment of the fossil fuel industry, this is more clear than it had been, and is appropriate for a 10 or 11-yer old. I hope that similar changes will be made in the sections on other units.

    The response that you post (by C. Johnson), also is inaccurate. Please let me correct Mr./Ms. Johnson:

    1) The EEI program is NOT funded by Chevron and BP, as Johnson implies. I have been told by the EEI project Consultant that (a) The writing of the EEI units was entirely state funded and (b) to date, neither Chevron nor BP have contributed any funds to the current efforts to disseminate the units.

    2) Johnson says that “If you follow the materials website it brings you to a coal and gas promotion is hardly what we should be focusing on in California.” I believe that Johnson is referring to the Energy4Me web site, but that is not clear from your posting. What you posted might be interpreted to mean that the EEI web site brings one to the coal and gas web site, which it does not.

    Thank you, and please keep up your efforts to assure accuracy, both in the groups and agencies that you monitor and in your own work.

  3. Robert Clegg says:

    How do teachers teach world history? Aren’t various points of view biased? In fact, isn’t that one of the big discussions in Texas now that history isn’t being taught from various perspectives including a number of minority views?

    So why is it we under estimate a teachers ability to teach, to present sides, to show science and facts? Of all subjects shouldn’t science be decided by the facts? Are you implying our teachers are incapable? Are you implying our teachers are ignorant and easily duped by corporations?

    It’s time to rethink corporate sponsorship of educational content. We need much better media and interactive content. It seems only corporations can fund that kind of development at this time.

    … unless you are saying teachers don’t know how to teach.

  4. Maria says:

    I love the previous comment by Robert. And I would like to say that Michael’s points are of value as well (if not a bit lengthy:)
    However, given the current state of affairs regarding the budget crisis and the underfunding of schools…corporations are our only hope. State and federal funding just isn’t happening.
    As the above statement pointed out…as teachers, we can utilize the donations from companies and then guide our students to critically think for themselves. As Americans, we are surrounded with contradictions…from what we eat to what we drive. Being exposed to these inconsistencies is inevitable. It’s what we do with that knowledge that makes a difference.

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