Every educator should know what I learned while working in Santa Monica, California at Canter & Associates, one of the top publishers of teacher-training materials.
Are you aware that dealing directly with company representatives may allow you to pay a significantly reduced cost for publications, video cassettes and other materials? Concerning the expanding industry of "distance learning" (video-taped) courses/Master degree programs, price reductions are often available in relation to participating as a member of a local group.
You may already be knowledgeable about standard special offers and percentage reductions for large quantities of a particular item, but you probably had no idea that there are no restrictions concerning a company's policies relating to price reductions for materials. Like me, you may have been under the impression that if a company provided a reduced rate on an item for one customer, the same deal must be made available to everyone. This isn't the case.
Often the largest price reductions are made for educational videos, due to the low cost of materials. Sales representatives often reduce the cost of video series, sometimes also providing free sample copies of publications as a bonus and eliminating the shipping costs. For example, a video package usually sold for $495 was provided to a Coral Springs customer for $195.
When I researched guidelines for publishers, at first I didn't know where to start. The Consumer Product Safety Commission referred me to the Federal Information Center, which in turn directed me to call the local office of the Federal Trade Commission. Here I was referred to what turned out to be the appropriate source for information — the Bureau of Competition in Washington, D.C.
What I was told by the Bureau is that price fluctuations aren't illegal because different school districts aren't in competition with each other. There are no guidelines for publisher's sales practices. The statute covering this is the Robinson-Patman Act, U.S. Code title 15, Section 13 (passed by Congress in the 1930s) and can be read at law2.house.gov/uscode-cg. There may be ethical and public relations questions involving these issues yet there are no ones concerning legality.
For educators struggling with restrictive budgets, it may come as a shock that another district paid $300 less than you for that video series about technology.
At Canter & Associates, I suggested the company establish a policy for price reductions that would provide each customer with the same opportunities. I was told that if a customer discovered he or she had paid more than another educator and demanded a refund of the difference, this sum would be reimbursed. My inquiries about these practices resulted in an admission of incorrect management and an explanation that the policy had evolved from a framework instituted when educators participating in workshops were offered special deals. A policy adjustment that the company is placing into effect is altering the individual sales commission basis for employees to become one where they participate in a shared group commission.
A lesson taught by these circumstances is that customers should call the company that provides their teacher-training materials for each order to make sure the lowest possible price is being paid. This article should give you some idea as to what you may be able to negotiate in terms of savings. You'll probably find that you don't even have to pay for the phone call by using an 800 number.
The dawn of the age of "distance learning" poses its own variety of ethical questions. Beyond the matter of cost, questions arise concerning what consequences the video format will have for the teaching profession. Publishers of teacher-training materials are reaping tremendous profits due to the comparatively inexpensive costs of duplicating videos and the accompanying manuals. The high prices customary for entertainment and documentary videos have established a highly profitable and thus flexible pricing scale for publishers.
After purchasing a video-taped course, customers find themselves in the predicament of reaching their own conclusions about the value of information being shared. Featured on these video courses are a myriad of lecturers with wide-ranging backgrounds called to serve as educational, curriculum and professional development consultants.
Often, textbooks on the same topics of video courses are less expensive alternatives. Educators should also carefully appraise whether the subjects of these videos are duplicating expertise already available in the community from local consultants. When purchasing any distance learning product, make sure that if you find the video's information hasn't met your standards, you may return it for a full refund. Canter & Associates has a police of allowing customers to return any product within sixty days for a full refund, no questions asked.
The growing popularity of video-taped curriculums will undoubtedly have an impact on the teaching profession yet it is hard to predict what effects there will be in relation to teaching careers and opportunities. Some see the technology as depersonalizing the education process while others see it as a logistical convenience. The fact is that thousands of educators are making use of distance learning Master degree programs. Dozens of accredited universities offer graduate courses on video, including Andrews University, Cardinal Stritch College, Grand Canyon College, Marygrove College, Olivet Nazarene College, Shenandoah College and St. Peter's College.
An Andrews University/Canter brochure states:
"Earn 5 quarter hours of graduate credit per course from Andrews University" (headline)
"EARN GRADUATE CREDIT Upon successful completion of course requirements, you will receive 5 quarter hours (equivalent to 3.3 semester hours) of graduate credit per course from Andrews University. Course credit may be transferable with prior approval from the university providing your degree program. Credit may be applicable for recertification and salary advancement if you hold a teaching certificate in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, or Ohio. If you do not teach in these states, call for more information. Total coursework for each course is equivalent to a 50-hour, 5-quarter credit course. A course outline is available upon request for presentation to and approval by your district.
"Course Requirements Graduate credit from Andrews University will be issued upon successful completion of the course requirements:
" View approximately 15 half-hour video segments.
" Complete the course study guide.
" Complete required text and journal readings.
" Complete the final written assignment.
"Andrews University is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, 30 North LaSalle Street, #2400, Chicago, IL 60602-2504, (312) 263-0456."
The thirteen courses (videos produced by Canter & Associates) that customers may choose from for Andrews University credit are "Managing Behavior in the Diverse Classroom," "Technology and Learning in Today's Classroom," "Helping Students Become Self-Directed Learners," "Learning Differences: Effective Teaching with Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences," "Building Your Repertoire of Teaching Strategies," "Including Students with Special Needs in the Regular Classroom," "Motivating Today's Learner," "Teaching Students to Get Along," "Strategies for Preventing Conflict and Violence," "Succeeding with Difficult Students," "The High-Performing Teacher," "How to Get Parents on Your Side," and "Assertive Discipline and Beyond."
A box at the bottom of the page reads:
"Attention Florida Educators: All courses have been accepted by the Florida Department of Education for recertification credit and may also be used for the recency of credit requirement."
Where price is concerned with distance learning courses, you'll find that for most universities the larger number of teachers participating together as a group, the greater the discount there will be for these individuals.
I was curious about the requirement made by many (but not all) universities that lone individuals are ineligible to participate by themselves in these programs. My guess was that this demand came about in order to place some kind of control on verifying that the individual participating in the distance learning class was who he or she claims; however, the answer I was provided designated the policy as being due to universities meeting the necessary requirements for offering the courses in the first place. Individual course assignments and often group discussions are a part of distance learning course requirements. It may be noticed that among the participants in these programs are husband and wife teams.
While my research eventually brought an understanding why there is no consumer protection in relation to pricing practices for publishers, questions concerning criteria and standards in relation to quality and content for distance learning courses seem even more difficult to answer. What seems most apparent is that we will face an ever-growing number of choices concerning the circumstances of education as technology expands mediums and opportunities.
— Mark Gordon Russell
(NOTE: I SUBMITTED THE ARTICLE ON OCTOBER 14TH TO ELECTRONIC SCHOOL. I ALSO SENT IT VIA EMAIL TO MY FRIEND KATHY, WHO HAD BEEN MY SUPERVISOR AT CANTER. ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2ND I RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING LETTER THAT HAD BEEN FORWARDED TO ME FROM MY EMPLOYMENT AGENCY. THE STATIONERY IDENTIFIED THE LETTER TO BE FROM HAMBURG, HANOVER, EDWARDS & MARTIN LLP IN CENTURY CITY. IT WAS DATED OCTOBER 30, 1998 AND INDICATED IT HAD BEEN SENT VIA FACSIMILE AND FIRST CLASS MAIL TO MY STAFFING SPECIALIST. ENCLOSED WAS A PHOTOCOPY OF MY EMAIL TO KATHY.)
Re: Our Client: Canter & Associates, Inc./Canter Educational Productions, Inc.
Your Client: Mark Gordon Russell
Dear Ms. Pike:
This office represents Canter & Associates, Inc. and Canter Educational Productions, Inc. (collectively Canter).
We are in receipt of a copy of an article written by Mr. Russell entitled "What You Should Know When Purchasing Teacher Training Materials and Video Courses" (a copy of which is enclosed for your reference). The article suggests, inter alia, that Canter engages in improper pricing activities.
Canter considers this article to be not only factually incorrect with respect to pricing and discounts, but defamatory and commercially disparaging. Please contact Mr. Russell and determine whether this article has been published or otherwise disseminated. In the event the article has not been published and/or disseminated, I implore you to strongly advise Mr. Russell to contact Rob Fiance at Canter to clarify his apparent misunderstanding regarding certain pricing situations.
While Canter acknowledges that the article address some interesting issues regarding distance learning, Mr. Russell's use of trade secrets, confidential information and/or proprietary data belonging to Canter, gained during his temporary employment at Canter (through Westaff), to the detriment of Canter's business is actionable.
I understand that Lisa Sill from Canter has delivered a Confidentiality Agreement to your office, which we require be executed by any employee that you place at Canter. We further expect that you will properly investigate any individual that you intend to place at Canter. A cursory review of Mr. Russell's background would have detailed his background as a writer. This information would have been helpful in deciding whether to accept Mr. Russell as a data processing candidate.
Canter will not tolerate inaccurate, defamatory or commercially disparaging statements to
be made regarding its product services. Canter will continue its investigation with respect to the
article and the circumstances surrounding Mr. Russell's placement at Canter.
Very truly yours,
BARRY G. EDWARDS, ESQ.
for HAMBURG, HANOVER, EDWARDS & MARTIN LLP
cc: Canter & Associates (w/o encl.)
Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc. (w/ encl.)
Mark Gordon Russell (w/o encl.)