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The Pitfalls of Corporate Sponsorship

All educational associations would be wise to pay attention to the roasting the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) is taking right now over its refusal to distribute a video on global warming to its members.

The controversy has arisen over NSTA's refusal to distribute 50,000 free DVD copies of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth". In a recent Washington Post article, the film's producer, Laurie David, reported receiving an email refusal of the free teaching materials from the NSTA indicating that acceptance of the DVDs would place an "unnecessary risk upon the (NSTA) capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." Also in the email, NSTA claimed that it did not want to offer a political endorsement that distribution of the film might imply. The problem, says David, is that NSTA has shown no such qualms about accepting more than $6 million in funding from Exxon Mobile, which has an alternative but similarly political end in mind when it comes to dealing with issues of fossil fuels.

Whether you personally agree or disagree with the NSTA's decision, this situation is sadly indicative of the tightrope all educational associations walk. The fact is, associations such NSTA, CSTA, and NCTM are increasingly stepping in to fill the huge educational gaps that other institutions have abandoned. We are doing the research, and creating the learning materials, and providing professional development for teachers. And doing all of this take money.

You might be surprised to learn that for most educational associations, membership fees account for less than 20% of the operating budget. That means we have to find the money to do all the good things we do from someplace else. There are only so many National Science Foundation grants to go around, so all of us, not just NSTA, rely on some form of corporate sponsorship.

To date, CSTA has been blessed with wonderful sponsors and we are very proud of the things we have accomplished together. Like most organizations, we focus on finding projects that are clearly in support of our mission and of benefit to our members. We also look carefully at the practical and moral implications of our choices. In truth, we have had to turn money down for projects that would imply CSTA support for a given product because our Board feels strongly that this is the right thing to do.

Whether right or wrong, I feel sorry for the good folks at the NSTA today. They have spent many years trying to do good things for teachers with far fewer resources than they need. The politics of scarcity gets us all eventually.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director


Everybody should pressure the NSTA directly. Add a message to this discussion on the NSTA discussion board: www.nsta.org/main/forum/showthread.php?t=1867. You can also register a complaint at www.nsta.org/feedback.

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