A watchdog group shows that commercialism in schools surged in 2003–2004.
In the heartland city of Indianapolis, Indiana, students are enrolled in an unlikely school: the Lafayette Square Mall. There, amid the bustle of shoppers and the beeping of cash registers, students attend classes, work at part-time jobs for school credit, walk the mall to fulfill a mandatory gym requirement, and get their meals at the food court. Since 1998, the United States' largest mall developer—the Simon Property Group—has partnered with local public school systems to open 19 alternative public schools in malls (or “Education Resource Centers”) in 11 states through its nonprofit Simon Youth Foundation. Lafayette Square's school, with a 200-student capacity, is the newest and largest (Berdik, 2004).
Supporters of the Simon school-in-a-mall concept offer a benign, even laudatory, interpretation of the group's efforts. At Education Resource Centers, they claim, students who were at risk of dropping out eventually become high school graduates. Mall schools maintain a 1:15 teacher-student ratio and require students to sign behavioral contracts and learn job skills. But as psychologist Susan Linn points out,
If a school embraces a commercial enterprise or commercial values, the school is sanctioning them. . . . A mall is full of businesses that want to sell things, and sell things to kids. (Berdik, 2004)