Double-edged Sword

As the Cendant story and others in this issue make clear, education technology now is inextricably linked to giant corporations. Sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.

In the short term, it’s troubling to see a problem of such magnitude afflict a key supplier of school software. That situation underscores the risk of having the development and distribution of important curriculum applications concentrated in so few corporate hands.

But bigness has its advantages, too. Large companies such as Cendant and The Learning Company can attract substantial programming talent to education products. They also can sustain R&D projects that are often beyond the reach of smaller players.

Enlightened self-interest among corporations also can benefit education. Sun Microsystems, for example, has just announced it has begun making sophisticated web authoring tools available to students and schoolsÐcompletely free of charge.

In fact, engagement with the school field has become central for some corporate behemoths. The Los Angeles Times now reports that education largesse was to be the linchpin in Microsoft’s campaign to burnish its image with the public, Washington regulators, and attorneys general in 11 states.

Nearly every major technology vendor now puts K-12 schools squarely among its most important markets. To the extent that such “most favored” status results in high-quality products and services for schools, this is a commendable trend.

How much we all have riding on the happy outcome of the ever-closer relationship between corporations and education is thrown into sharp relief by yet another report on a corporate development in this issue: McDonald’s decision to begin phasing-in robotic cooking equipment.

Technology is not so slowly eradicating the few remaining refuges for the ill schooled. “Self-service” ran the gas station off the road as a low-skill career choice. It takes an understanding of global positioning satellites and computerized weather forecasting to stay down on the farm these days. And now, McDonald’s has set out to make hamburger flippers and french fry dunkers as common as blacksmiths.

Big business needs your schools more than ever. That’s why you’re so close to their corporate hearts (that and the $30 billion you’ll spend on technology in the next few years).

After Cendant, no one could say immediately how a similar bookkeeping blunder could be avoided in the future. It’s a safe bet, though, that a better-educated work force wouldn’t hurt.

Gregg W. Downey

Editor & Publisher

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