From Jim Metrock: This speech from 12 years ago is unfortunately still timely. Students are still being commercially exploited by old tired kiddie marketers like Channel One and new upstarts like SkoolLive. Parents and educators need to stay vigilant for those who only see schools as a source of easy ad revenue.
Keynote Speech To Council Of Urban Boards Of Education
From Jim Metrock:
I was honored to deliver a keynote address to the Council of Urban Boards of Education on Saturday, June 28, 2003 in Chicago. This important group is a part of the National School Boards Association. They represent over one hundred city school districts. My remarks concerned the broad issue of “school/business partnerships.”
The 2nd grade students finally quiet down and the curtain is raised – their special school play begins. The actors are from the National Theater for Children a corporation, based in Minneapolis, that, under the guise of theatre, brings corporate messages to students in as stealthy a way as one can imagine…
I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about corporations and public schools.
The legal definition of “imprisonment” is “to put into a place of confinement” “to restrain one’s liberty.”
Using this strict legal definition, our country routinely allows for the imprisonment of three types of citizens:
1. Those who have committed crimes or are in the process of being tried,
2. mentally impaired citizens to protect themselves and society, and
3. young humans roughly between the ages 6 and 16.
For 180 days each year, these young people are to report to government buildings (or their equivalent) for the receiving of instruction from state employees. The term “compulsory attendance” is a pretty intense concept.
The public, I believe, is so used to the concept of public education that we may sometimes take for granted the extraordinary duty we have to make sure that the time children spend confined in these government buildings is used for their betterment and for no other purpose.
There is only a limited amount of time for public schools to teach a world of knowledge.
As you well know, the public expects public schools to maximize learning time and minimize any waste of time and, definitely, to not tolerate any misuse of that time. They expect good values to be taught by schools or, at worse, neutral values, but never, intentionally, negative values.
The schools are to promote what is healthy, and to never intentionally promote anything that is unhealthy.
Schools are to promote critical thinking, and never its opposite, propaganda.
Your school districts are now facing funding problems as harsh as anyone can remember. No Child Left Behind – Was anyone surprised that somebody Left the Money Behind?
There are now corporations that are knocking on your door. They want to enter into “school/business partnerships” They offer easy money or “free” equipment. These companies, like Channel One, Pepsi, Coke, and third-party marketing companies know your district is hurting for funds, and only if you are short of money, would you ever entertain their sales pitch.
These companies want a piece of the pie.
To them students are a hard-to-reach target market, and not much more.
These companies use a variety of methods to market to our children during the school day: free samples, book covers, hallway advertising, ads on school buses, sponsorship of school sports and sports facilities, scoreboards and sports uniforms.
Before we look at the two most important contracts offered to schools, let’s think about corporations for just a moment.
Each of you can list corporations that have greatly benefited your city schools, but your schools are not indebted to these corporations.
Let me explain. If you owe me $10 and I owe you $100, then you’re not indebted to me. I am indebted to you for $90.
So it is with public schools and corporations. Companies may give you some resources, and they have in the past with little expectation of anything other than a mention in the school newsletter, if that, but your public school system is the foundation of your city’s economy.
The economic structure of your city depends on the steady stream of graduates who march across your gym stage with diploma in hand into the world of higher education or work. Public schools are the economic engine of the community. Corporations can never repay what they owe the public schools for constantly creating educated employees and employed customers.
But now there are some companies asking school boards, “How can we work together to generate a revenue stream FROM your school TO our company?” That takes a lot of nerve.
These companies got great encouragement to storm the schoolhouse door after the rollout of Channel One in 1990.
You can categorize Channel One a number of ways. I consider Channel One News nothing less than 21st Century Indentured Servitude.
Channel One makes a school and its students indebted to them, then they make the students “work off” the debt.
Channel One loans TV equipment to schools. They wire the TVs into a network. They supply a daily TV show, with some news, that must be shown to the students.
Some refer to Channel One’s TVs as “free”. And indeed they are free. They are free to everyone except the students. The schoolchildren are the ones made to pay and they pay dearly.
In order to keep the equipment, schools agree to carve out 12 minutes of school time, usually in homeroom, each day, in order to show Channel One News. That equates to one hour a week and one instructional week of school a year – over 32 hours spent watching TV.
The students pay for these rental TV sets, not with money, but with something much more valuable – their school time. – time already paid for by taxpayers.
Students in schools with Channel One usually have to be shown the program from 6th to 12th grade meaning they lose 7 weeks of potential academic instruction. Imagine how much higher test scores would be if just a part of that wasted TV time would be converted into reading time.
In 1996, in Alabama, the cost to provide one minute of public school time for one student was 6 cents. Using this very conservative figure, a 23-student classroom would lose $2,600 in student time every year. The 19″ TV set in their classroom is worth no more than $150. That means that one classroom is paying 17 times the value of their TV set and the school will never own the TV. They will have to pay $2,600 per classroom the next year and every year thereafter. I would argue that the Channel One contract makes little financial sense.
Channel One creates an inequality of education that is intolerable in this day and time.
Imagine two identical schools in two adjacent cities. The only difference is one has a contract with Channel One and the other, like the majority of schools, doesn’t. Picture students entering the front door of each school. The student’s family has paid taxes for a free public education, however, the students entering the school with Channel One, must pay extra to attend their school. They must, figuratively, daily drop 12 minutes of their school time into a box as they enter the front door. The contract says students must be shown Channel One News 90% of all school days. Some contracts say it must be shown in at least 80% of all classrooms. All contracts say the entire TV program must be shown in its entirety, you can’t cut out the commercials for Snickers, Acuvue contact lens, Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies, Warner Brothers, M&Ms, MTV,and Mt. Dew.
The old type of indentured servitude, at least, offered a person a hope of paying off the debt. With Channel One, there is no ending point. The student body just keeps paying and paying while title to all equipment remains with Channel One.
A 1994 study by Michael Morgan at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst found that Channel One was most often found in schools with the largest proportion of low income, underprivileged students, and in schools that have the least amount of money to spend on conventional educational resources.
In 1998 the Alabama Department of Education surveyed the top ten schools that spent the most per pupil and the 10 that spent the least. In the top spending schools 8 out of 10 did not have contracts for Channel One News. Nine of the bottom ten did.
This month, a Newsweek cover story listed their top 100 public high schools in America. We’re not finished polling these schools but 40 of the top 50 have responded and 92% of them do not have Channel One News.
This shows that those who can afford to say “No” to Channel One say “No” This shows that schools want the equipment, not the TV show that the students have to waste their time watching.
Students in our cities deserve commercial-free classrooms every bit as much as the suburban student.
If you still have Channel One in your schools, you should be concerned about several things other than the waste of money and the loss of learning time. Channel One has changed over the seven years that I have been researching it. I have watched over 1,000 broadcasts. It is no longer a commercial product – it is a hyper-commercial product.
Channel One promised schools it would have no more than two minutes of commercial content on each daily 12-minute show. But they have added commercial time without getting the permission of school boards. They now have sponsored segments of the show, such as “Cingular Question of the Day” and “Gatorade’s Play of the Week” These segments may last several minutes, mentioning the products several times, their company logo on the screen, and are in addition to the regular commercials. Sometimes bonus commercial content has been added to the end of the program.
Guest hosts are allowed to plug their latest rock or rap CD or movie or TV show even though it is violates Channel One’s own news standards.
For example, on May 8, an actor from the movie X-Men 2 was allowed to co-host the entire Channel One News show. His purpose was not to get your students ready for final exams, but to get them into the movie theater during the first week of this violent sci-fi movie.
Not only are they over the 2-minute ad limit; the 12-minutes show has grown to often 13 minutes. Again without board approval.
Not delivering what this company said they would deliver is serious business. Previous school boards relied on these contractual and non-contractual promises by Channel One. Your board attorney should be made aware of this.
A board should be very concern about Channel One’s steady stream of movie commercials. Advertising violent movies like the X-Men 2, James Bond movies, AntiTrust, Bats, Planet of the Apes, etc. could land a board in trouble. If one child mimics one act of violence from a movie that his school repeatedly encouraged him to see by repeatedly showing him ads for the movie, then one could argue that the school district may have some responsibility.
Two years ago, Channel One ran a very violent commercial for a very violent PG13 movie called Supernova. Children actually saw people being maimed and killed on the screen of their classroom TV. Why should a public school show this to students? Why should taxpayers be subsidizing the marketing of Hollywood movies during school time? It happens because Channel One, not the school district, is in charged of one hour a week of school. Channel One solely decides the content of that hour.
Channel One’s ads bring sexual images and messages right into the classroom. Sex sells and Channel One advertisers know that better than anybody.
One commercial shows a girl in a skimpy bikini being pushed in a pool. Her top comes off and students watch as she covers her bare breasts, which are underwater, with her hands. Then the commercial has a provocative, lingering shot of the bikini top floating on the water. That was for Clearasil.
Although Channel One News does not run ads for R-rated movies, the offensive PG13 movies they push should concern a board. They advertised a movie called Monkeybone. To get the students attention the commercial showed women in bikinis running, in slow motion, away from the lecherous main character played by Brandon Fraser. You don’t want me to tell you what this movie was about.
Surely these commercials help create an undesirable atmosphere in the classroom.
Channel One advertised a movie called Dude, Where’s My Car? This “funny” movie was about two drug users who got so stoned that they can’t remember what they did at the strip club the night before or what they did with their car. This was not only a raunchy movie, it normalized drug usage and was to me a pro-drug movie. (I see all the movies advertised on Channel One.)
Last November, Channel One ran seven commercials on seven consecutive days for Adam Sandler’s vulgar animated movie Eight Crazy Nights. It was much like South Park in its sexual content and language. These ads were customized for the Channel One audience. Sandler asks students a question that requires them to see the movie so they can enter a contest.
I am fearful that the presence of Channel One in a school district will decrease the chances of passing future school funding measures. The perception will be that a school, that spends time running commercials for movies and other products, has time to burn.
Channel One, by the way, has always been outlawed from every public school classroom in their home state of New York.
One of the biggest advertisers on Channel One is Pepsi which brings us to exclusive product contracts.
Nowadays we have companies that are trying to persuade school boards to sign long-term contracts that would grant a right to sell their product, exclusively, in the school or in district.
Well, if this type contract is in the least bit attractive to a board, let’s consider the whole spectrum of products that could be sold in public schools.
Here’s an absurd mental exercise, but with a purpose: Imagine a marketing rep standing in front of your Board urging you to sign an exclusive 5-year contract to sell beer and marijuana to the student body. The money to be made, unfortunately, is significant.
The pitch is simple: some students have been using these products for years and will continue to do so and the school district has gotten absolutely no money from these transactions so why not sell students products, at a profit, that some will buy anyhow?
Yes, this is a bad thing to do, but the commissions from sales will fund important and respectable projects in the district.
Of course, none of us would consider such nonsense and you know, we wouldn’t reject such an offer because it was illegal. We would never have to get to the question of legality because we know these things to be unhealthy – real unhealthy – for children. And we are not going to do anything that adversely affects the health of students.
Now my purpose in this is not to equate Coca-Cola or Mt. Dew to drugs or alcohol. My purpose is to establish a point of reference on the line of “Healthy products-to-Unhealthy products.”
Beer and marijuana are anchoring the unhealthy end of this spectrum. Where are soft drinks?
If schools had to pick a product to sell to students, soft drinks would have to be, from everything I know, one of the worst choices. But if a school board is to entertain signing contract with a soft drink company, they have a world of work ahead of them. They must do their research so they can understand the nature and repercussions of the products these companies wish to sell to the students.
A typical soft drink contains so much sugar that the Center for Science in the Public Interest refers to a soft drink as “liquid candy”
The main problem with soft drinks is they help make our students fatter. More children are getting Type II diabetes.
Childhood obesity is increasing at an alarming rate. Obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in teens since 1980. Soft drink consumption has double since the 1970s. Children who drink more soft drinks tend to consume more calories and are more likely to be overweight.
On June 16, the CDC projected that one in three U.S. children born in 2000 will become diabetic unless something changes.
A CDC diabetes epidemiologist told reporters that the odds are worse for black and Hispanic children; nearly half of them are likely to develop the disease.
In 2000, a Boston Children’s Hospital study suggested that soft drinks make physically active girls more vulnerable to bone fractures. Dr. Grace Wyshak of the Harvard School of Public Health said that those who consumed carbonated beverages had a three-fold risk of bone fracture in comparison to those who did not.
Last week, another study out of Boston showed that 24% of 307 urban adolescents were deficient in Vitamin D. Meryl LeBoff, director of skeletal health and osteoporosis at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said, “This is a clarion call for increasing awareness about the importance of optimizing bone health in American teenagers.”
Soft drinks squeeze out drinks that contain calcium. It is crucial for females in their teens to consume calcium to build up bone mass. If that bone mass isn’t built up in a window of opportunity ending in her early twenties, then she may be at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
Also caffeine increases the excretion of calcium in the urine. Drinking 12 ounces of caffeine-containing soft drinks causes the loss of about 20 milligrams of calcium or two percent of the U.S. Required Daily Dose. That compounds the potential harm to female students.
Osteoporosis is a delayed injury that we need to consider when a soft drink company wants you to become their “partner.”
A board also needs to consider the impact soft drinks have on promoting tooth decay, kidney stones, and behavior problems due caffeine. Does your student handbook outlaw caffeine pills? How can a student be disciplined when he is caught with a caffeine pill when the school is in the caffeine-selling business?
A NoDoz tablet has 100 mg. Of caffeine. A 12 0z. Pepsi has 37 mg., a Mt. Dew 55 mg.
Maybe soft drinks are too far on the unhealthy end of the spectrum of products be sold in a public school. Maybe schools should be doing everything they can to lessen the amount of soft drinks consumed by students, and not to attempt to increase their consumption.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that those who want to lose or control their weight should drink water instead of soft drinks with sugar.
Of course, the cola companies will jump up and say, “Hey, we sell water too.” Sure they sell water -water that costs more than gasoline. Why should we be encouraging our students to spend their quarters on Pepsi’s AquaFina water and Coke’s Desani water when the school already provides free water from the drinking fountains in the halls?
Because sales for their hard stuff are flattening out, the cola companies are coming out with new products. Products that they think will make school board members feel more comfortable.
Besides very expensive water, and fruit drinks like Fruitopia that has 5% fruit juice, they have products like milk. Well, sorta like milk. In July, Coca-Cola will roll out blueberry, chocolate and vanilla-flavors of Swerve, a milk-based drink.
In March, soft drink bottlers debuted Cadbury’s Raging Cow another ‘dairy drink.”
Milk only constitutes about 1/2 of these products. Water, sugar and flavoring the other half. Therefore they lack enough calcium and other nutrients to meet the Food and Drug Administration’s minimum standard for using the word “milk” on the label.
That’s why they are called “dairy drinks.” The Wall Street Journal reported that an eight-ounce serving of Raging Cow’s Chocolate Insanity has 170 calories and 25 grams of sugar compared to 100 calories and 12 grams of sugar in the same size glass of 1% milk. Raging Cow has twice the fat grams of 1% milk.
These products will be coming to your schools as the “healthy” part of the vending machine line-up.
Two years ago, I met the Coke Dude. This poor man, no matter how many good things he has done as an educator and administrator, will forever be known by this silly nickname. His real name is John Bushey.
As you may remember, Mr. Bushey wrote a memo suggesting to principals ways they could help reach the district’s quota of selling 70,000 cases of cola company products. He said, “1. Allow students to purchase and consume vended products throughout the day. … 2. Locate machines where they are accessible to the students all day. Location, location, location is the key.”
He signed it “John Bushey, The Coke Dude.”
He wanted students drinking Coca-Cola all through the day. He wanted to promote impulse buying and consumption by strategic placing of vending machines. One can say this gentleman went to the extreme, but administrators at districts with exclusive cola contracts are under the same pressures that transformed this man into the “Coke Dude.”
If there is a commission paid to the school per unit of cola company product sold, then the school has a vested interest in maximizing sales of these products. How can a school say they are not trying to increase consumption of these drinks when the whole point of entering into the contract was to make money? Are they tying to say they really want to make less money; not more money?
The West Ashley School in Charleston, South Carolina get $.43 per dollar put into a vending machine. The profit realized each month is about $3,000. For the nine-month school year they are being paid $13.00 per student. However, the student body is spending almost $30.00 per student per school year.
Here’s a machine that you put $30 in and get $13 out. And in addition the liquid that comes out is helping to jeopardize the health of students.
This past school year, Andrea Boyes, a 15-year-old Oregon cheerleader, came up with an idea to raise money to create scholarships for students who needed help with cheerleading expenses. She decided to sell bottled water that would have the school’s nickname on it: “Titan Water.” She got some money donated to her project. She printed up the labels, ordered the bottles, and then Pepsi got wind of her plan.
You see, Andrea’s school district had an exclusive “pouring rights” contract with Pepsi. That meant Pepsi executives now helped make school decisions affecting students. Pepsi would not allow Andrea to sell her water on school grounds. There would be no selfless acts of caring for your fellow students if it would interfere with Pepsi’s pursuit of children’s pocket change. The world is turned upside down.
Some schools raise money by selling “naming rights” to school property, but isn’t it wrong for me to sell something that isn’t mine to sell?
Taxpayers paid for every brick and all the mortar in each school building. If a new name is to be applied to a building why not honor the people who actually paid for it, such as: “Taxpayer Science Lab” or “Citizen’s Gym”?
Seriously, when a school board agrees to put a person’s name on a building, it carries enormous significance. It helps define the values of the community. When people see “Booker T. Washington High School”, “Abraham Lincoln Middle School” and “Martin Luther King Elementary School” there is a subtle yet powerful message for generations of students. Equally inspirational are schools and buildings named after local benefactors who quietly served public education for years with no anticipation of being honored.
I am sure this room is filled with people whose names in the future will rightfully be on public school buildings.
Vernon Hills High School in greater Chicago has named their $1.9 million football stadium: Rust-Oleum Field. This company paid $100,000 for naming rights – or $94 per student, for a period of 20 years! This is chump change.
What about the retired coach that taught perseverance and hard work? Was there no citizen in the city of Vernon Hills, IL that better deserved their name on the stadium?
In 1999, a real bad idea came out of San Ramon, CA: the ZapMe! Corporation. The company is no longer in schools, but this is a cautionary tale about the next phase of the commercial assault on public schools.
ZapMe! not only wanted to bring advertising into the schools, they wanted to take information out of the schools. This information will aid in the development of new products and more efficient advertising.
ZapMe! would loan a school an entire computer lab at no cost. Much like Channel One, ZapMe! wanted to be paid back in school time. A school had to agree that the students would be in front of the 15 computer screens for at least 4 hours a day, even if teachers had no reason for students to use the computers.
Advertising would always be on the screen. But it was special advertising. If a student clicked on an ad there would be a full-screen, movie-like presentation. These computers were devised to track the individual students by age, gender and school ZIP code. There was also aggregate information gathered that helped refined the type of ads students would see.
Even if a child didn’t click on an ad, the ads would change several times a minute. All these ads had motion and were designed for one purpose: to get the student to cease his school work and click on the ad.
To show the gall of this company, the contract required schools to open up the computer lab for ZapMe!’s after-hours computer training aimed at potential adult customers. The school would receive no money for allowing their building to be used by this private company.
ZapMe! has been zapped but schools should remain vigilant for corporations that want to shakedown students for information that may be a violation of their privacy.
There is growing opposition to companies like Channel One and the exclusive soft drink contracts and gym floor that have corporate logos.
In March 2001, Coca-Cola announced it would cut back on exclusive contracts with school districts.
The changing lineup of products offered by cola companies indicts that they know the public sentiment is becoming more hostile to their sugared, carbonated beverages.
In 2001, Seattle schools passed a policy to restrict advertising on vending machines, scoreboards, building facades and athletic fields and to phase out Channel One.
In 2000, Alabama pediatricians passed a resolution opposing classroom commercials and this may happen in other states.
In 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board voted to end the sale of soft drinks in vending machines and cafeterias by January 2004. The ban affects 677 schools. There is a similar ban in place in the Oakland Unified School District. Other school districts have taken similar actions.
I am sure you have heard that on Wednesday, the decision was made by the New York City officials to start removing candy, soft drinks and sweet snacks from all school vending machines. A CDC study showed that 20% of third graders and 21% of 6th graders in New York are obese. How could the largest school district in our country do anything other than ban these products?
All of these deals, I would suggest, diminish public support for public education. They may well accelerate the defunding of public education.
There is nobody here that is more pro-business than I am. Don’t get me wrong – corporate help for schools should always be welcomed. Corporate citizens like human citizens should give their money, time and other resources to their public schools with no strings attached. That’s just what you do as a member of the community.
Why don’t we turn the tables on these companies that want our school time to sell raunchy movies, our hallways to sell their soft drinks, and the sides of our school busses and buildings to sell whatever.
I would suggest that a school board very publicly hold a press conference where they say, “Our schools are not for sale. No matter how desperate we get, our schools will look to taxpayers for basic funding of our schools.”
Use a Channel One contract to get the public’s attention. “It would take $15,000 to replace Channel One’s equipment and we don’t have it. Because we don’t have the funds we lose week of instruction every year. We need help.”
It would be even easier to inflame the passions of parents and other taxpayers by holding up the cola contracts. “They want us to push their junk drinks. This will undermine the health of our students. All that for some cash? We aren’t going to do this and we need the communities help.”
Use these corporate marketers in a way they never envisioned. Use them to grab the attention of a usually indifferent tax base.
All this might sound corny to you and naive, but look at this from a parent’s viewpoint and this kind of stand by a board of education is heroic. In a very visible way, you are standing up for the health and welfare of their children. You are turning away easy money for a higher purpose.
I would urge your board, if it has not already done so, to develop a policy statement defining the limits of school/business relationships. Basically, in most school districts, local school boards delegated responsibility to superintendents or principals, who often make decisions on a case-to-case basis.
I think one can argue that the commercialization of public schools has become a policy issue for the board to address.
In my handout, I have reprinted the Milwaukee Principles and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s statement on commercial activities. These principles have guided other educational organizations in setting of guidelines and policies.
I believe there is ample evidence that a backlash against school commercialism has begun. Make the good publicity happen in your city by making your schools as commercial-free, as junk-food-free as possible.
There is going to be a day when Pepsi and Cokes are no longer going to be sold in schools, that no student will have to watch Channel One’s commercials. It won’t be government action that stops these companies, it will be school boards and the public demanding it.
In conclusion, school board members like you, who tirelessly and selflessly give your time and money to the public schools, should expect nothing less than selfless giving from the corporations that so greatly benefit from your efforts.
God bless all of you for what you do for other people’s children.