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Topic: Keep Ads Out of Schools
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Keep Ads Out of Schools
Posted: Sep 25, 2000 12:08 PM
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From the Christian Science Monitor, Monday, September 25, 2000. See

Keep Ads Out of Schools

It may indicate a certain critical mass when members of Congress
direct the General Accounting Office to study an issue. By that
standard, the commercialization of classrooms may have arrived.

A just-released GAO study offers some arresting statistics: More than
200 school districts have signed contracts with soft-drink companies
giving them exclusive franchises on local campuses; almost a quarter
of middle and high schools show Channel One on classroom TVs.

Channel One sparked the first wave of concern about the commercial
exploitation of schoolchildren a decade ago. The company provides
free cable-news and feature programming to schools in return for
running ads. Advertisers, of course, are glad to get guaranteed
exposure to a young audience.

The arguments raised then are just as valid now. Education and
commercialism are not a good mix. Schools should be one place where
children can be free from commercial pitches - where the focus is on
their budding intellects, not their taste buds or fashion contests
with their buddies.

Getting a reading on kids' tastes and spending habits lies behind
this commercial intrusion. Some companies are offering schools free
computers that flash ads and are set up to collect data about their
young users. Such data is like gold to advertisers.

The GAO report throws light on this and other facets of school
commercialism. It ought to grab the attention of state legislators,
who are in the best position to do something. Today's push toward
reform and academic rigor should not be subject to commercial

From the New York Times on the Web, Thursday, September 14, 2000. See

New Report Examines Commercialism in U.S. Schools

By Constance L. Hays

From exclusive soft-drink contracts to computers displaying
continuous advertising, corporate marketing in public schools is
rising sharply. But few states have laws in place to address the
phenomenon, and most decisions on commercial arrangements in schools
are made piecemeal by local officials, according to a report from the
General Accounting Office scheduled to be released today.

"In-school marketing has become a growing industry," the report
stated. "Some marketing professionals are increasingly targeting
children in schools, companies are becoming known for their success
in negotiating contracts between school districts and beverage
companies, and both educators and corporate managers are attending
conferences to learn how to increase revenue from in-school marketing
for their schools and companies."

Until now, there has been no comprehensive effort to measure the
number of commercial contracts with schools. But school board
officials, consultants and nonprofit organizations that follow
education issues say it is clear that such contracts are far more
common now than they were even two years ago.

About 25 percent of the nation's middle schools and high schools now
show Channel One, a broadcast of news features and commercials, in
their classrooms, and about 200 school districts have signed
exclusive contracts with soft-drink companies to sell their beverages
in schools. And in at least one case, students using computers in
classrooms were offered incentives to enter personal data - names,
addresses, information on personal habits - which would then be sold
to advertisers.

Recognizing that the nation's 47.2 million students are an
increasingly lucrative target market for consumer product companies,
school districts are often willing to join with corporations. They
see the money as one way to supplement tight budgets without having
to raise taxes. But at the same time, few school officials are an
even match for experienced corporate marketers. "They're trained in
the three R's, and the R's don't include retail," one North Carolina
school official noted last year.

Over the last three years, many school districts have signed
contracts with soft- drink giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsico, in
which vending machines in hallways function as glowing billboards for
their brands. A math textbook published in 1995 by McGraw-Hill and
approved for use in about 15 states names many consumer products,
including Gatorade, Sega and Sony video games and Nike sneakers, in
its problems. McGraw-Hill said it received no compensation for the
use of the corporate names.

Companies like Zap Me, which is based in San Ramon, Calif., offer
schools free computers with screens that include continuously
flashing ads. Zap Me also collects information that students provide
and makes it available to its advertisers - including Microsoft and
Toshiba, which also supply the computers - said Bob Stern, a
spokesman for the company.

The G.A.O. report cites textbook covers distributed by Clairol, Ralph
Lauren, Reebok and Philip Morris with company names and logos fully
displayed. In New York City, the Board of Education is considering a
plan that would provide computers for all of its students, starting
in the fourth grade. The computers might carry ads and possibly
encourage shopping on a particular Web site.

A spokesman for the National Soft Drink Association said local
bottlers signed contracts with
the schools in part to support the schools and in part to promote
their products. "The brand loyalty that is gained by having these
products available to kids when they get thirsty during the day is
valuable to these companies," said Sean McBride, the spokesman.

All the activity has aroused concern in communities from Montclair,
N.J., to Madison, Wis., to Birmingham, Ala., where companies have
made deals with schools that let them promote their products to
students. The demand for product placement in schools has even
created a separate consulting niche.

School districts are expected to make decisions about commercial
agreements using their own discretion, said Renee Williams Hockaday,
a spokeswoman for the National School Boards Association in
Alexandria, Va. "It is obviously a growing issue," she said, adding
that the agreements "could be something positive, as long as the
students don't turn into walking advertisements for these companies
with no benefit to their learning environment."

The report, prepared over the last year, is the first government
study to address commercialism in schools. It stops short of
pinpointing the effects of in-school advertising, noting that
"because advertising in ubiquitous in America, it is difficult - if
not impossible - to distinguish between the effects of advertising to
which students are exposed inside and outside of school." The G.A.O.
will study the issue again in the next year or so and quantify the
spread of commercial activity in schools.

The report, which includes color photographs of ads atop school bus
stops, over computer carrels and on soda vending machines, was
ordered by Representative George Miller, a Democrat of California,
and Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat of Connecticut. In an
interview, Mr. Miller said he was prompted by concern over data being
collected about students through computers given to their schools by
Zap Me.

"Not a lot of attention is being paid to whether parents agree with
this or want their children to participate or not participate," he
said. "Sometimes parents have a different opinion from that of the
superintendent or the school board."

Senator Dodd said he planned to send letters to parent-teacher groups
around the country to urge them to read the report. There is still
time, he said, for lawmakers and others to resolve the issues. "This
hasn't gotten totally out of hand yet," he said. "Most schools are
still doing a pretty good job." He added, however, that he was
shocked that many schools said they were unaware that the "free"
computers they received from companies could be used to collect, and
sell, marketing data from their students.

"There is a tremendous amount of information being solicited and used
to market back to kids without administrative consent or parental
consent," he said. "If you had an 8-year- old or a 10-year-old, would
you allow someone to come into your house to do a survey on your
child without your consent?"

The report is being hailed by some as proof that commercial activity
in schools is a growing threat. "This is the first official
government confirmation that commercialism in schools is a
problematic issue," said Andrew Hagelshaw, director of the Center for
Commercial-Free Public Education in Oakland, Calif., which has waged
many grass-roots battles against soft-drink contracts and Channel
One. "Public schools are publicly funded and are supposed to be the
one place where kids don't get advertised to. It's completely
inappropriate to turn that venue into a place where companies get to
promote brand-name products."

Mr. Hagelshaw said he had seen something of a backlash against
commercialism in schools recently. Last year, the 15-million-member
Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution against Channel One,
because it advertises to schoolchildren. In Madison, Wis., one of the
first school districts to sign an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola,
the school board recently voted not to renew the arrangement. San
Francisco earlier this year turned down an exclusive contract with
Pepsi, Mr. Hagelshaw said.

Another longtime critic of commercial activity in schools predicted
that the report would encourage state legislatures to act. "This is
going to raise the visibility of this issue enormously," said Alex
Molnar, a professor of education at the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who directs the university's three- year-old
Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Dodd have sponsored a bill, now part of the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, that is pending before the
House and would require parental consent for market-research
activities in schools.

"Let's not pretend this is child's play," Mr. Miller said. "This is
not some benevolent effort to give away computers. This is a cold,
calculating effort to make customers out of children."

Mr. Molnar says students could be harmed by the promotion of products
through schools. "One could argue that a person comes to the
marketplace skeptical, as a consumer," he said, "but in a school,
everything that's going on is supposed to be good for you. When you
take that venue and you exploit it for a particular special interest,
you do a lot of damage to children." For example, he added, soft
drinks, candy, snack food and fast food are all advertised in schools
in many places, lending them a credibility they may not deserve

"Ultimately, this is the kind of thing that promotes cynicism in
children," he said.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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