Massachusetts Looks At School Ads

June 5, 2007

Lawmakers Weigh Ban On Marketing In Schools; Critics Say Ads Increase Obesity, Family Stress

BOSTON — Critics say it’s an insidious threat to school children — responsible for everything from obesity and family stress to gender stereotyping and financial woes.

It’s marketing, and lawmakers in Massachusetts are weighing a bill that would ban virtually all advertising in schools – creating "commercial free zones" from kindergarten through high school.

The proposed ban, described as the most sweeping in the country, would prohibit everything from scoreboard ads to book covers plastered with product logos. It would even ban news broadcasts in classrooms and music broadcasts on school buses that carry advertising
Virtually the only marketing allowed would be logos that are part of the packaging of a product – a bag of Fritos could still carry the Fritos logo.

"Children are assaulted by commercial messages in almost every aspect of their lives and the schools to the extent possible should be a haven," said Robert Weissman, manager director of the Washington DC-based non-profit group Commercial Alert.
One target of the bill is Channel One, a daily public affairs program shown in 300,000 classroom nationwide.

A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics found students remember more of the two minutes of advertising than the 10 minutes of news stories in each broadcast.

Linda Vickery pulls her daughter out of her seventh grade classroom during Channel One broadcasts, fed up with what she says is a lack of follow-up discussions and pervasive ads.

"It’s not teaching my child anything except how to consume more and more," said Vickery, who lives in Lunenburg, 50 miles west of Boston. "They don’t want to develop her mind. They want to develop her spending habits."

Channel One spokeswoman Amanda Cheslock said the company doesn’t comment on pending legislation, but noted the show won a Peabody Award last year.

Another target is Bus Radio, a Needham, Mass.-based company that creates a satellite radio broadcast of what it describes as age-appropriate music and ads for school buses. It’s on about 1,000 buses in 11 states.

The company markets the broadcast as a way to quiet boisterous students without R-rated lyrics. But critics say, like Channel One, Bus Radio is capitalizing on a captive audience.

Bus Radio president Steven Shulman said many school buses already have commercial radios. What his company is doing is offering a sanitized version.

"We use the audio to play appropriate messages, PSA’s and safety messages," Shulman said.

Each hour of radio also includes eight minutes of ads.

While some school districts have barred Channel One, Bus Radio and other forms or marketing, Massachusetts would be the first to create a statewide ban under the bill, according to sponsor state Rep. Peter Koutoujian. The bill was the subject of a recent public hearing.

Koutoujian said marketers are trading on the trust parents and students place in their schools.

"If it’s an advertisement in our school system then it has implicit support from our schools," he said. "Even if children don’t like school, they know school cares about them."

But state Rep. Brad Jones, the House Republican leader, said it’s unclear how far the ban would go, whether it would bar posters for colleges or the military or T-shirts with rock band logos. He also said the ban is unnecessary.

"It’s like the thought police," said Jones, R-North Reading. "Any school district that has a problem can choose to ban ads anyway."
Advertising in schools is desirable for marketers in part because schools are relatively free of the advertising "clutter" of television, according to Juliet Schor, a professor at the Sociology Department at Boston College and author of "Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture."

Advertising in schools feeds gender stereotypes, making boys more obsessed with weapons and girls more obsessed with makeup, according to Wheelock College education professor Diane Levin.

It also dampens a child’s natural curiosity and undermines their relationship with parents, teachers and peers.

"It teaches them to associate happiness and well being with what they consume rather than having meaningful experiences in their immediate environment," she said.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Worcester Telegram

Women take their fight against school ads to Boston


Lunenburg residents Lin M. Vickery and Kimberly A. Lawn, parents of middle school children, traveled to the Statehouse yesterday to testify for a bill that would prohibit advertising in public schools.

“Every morning, our public middle school students (in Lunenburg) begin the day by watching 12 minutes of news and advertising, brought to them by Channel One,” said Ms. Vickery in her testimony to the committee.

Channel One is a proprietary television network and marketing company that produces 12-minute news and advertising segments geared to teens and broadcast directly into schools by satellite. Ms. Vickery and Ms. Lawn have been working to get Channel One removed from Lunenburg schools.

“Much of the one full week of school that our students spend watching Channel One annually focuses on celebrities and their products … Condoleezza Rice and her iPod, the troops in Iraq and their Playstation 2s, guest hosts and their latest movies and music CDs. Channel One doesn’t count these as ads,” said Ms. Vickery.

House Bill 489, “an act relative to the public health impact of commercialism in schools,” would prohibit companies from advertising their products on school grounds.

“School-aged children are bombarded with advertisements,” said state Rep. Peter J. Koutoujian, D-Waltham, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee and sponsor of the bill, in a news release.

“In fact, many view up to 30,000 television ads per year. Companies spent $100 million in the early 1990s marketing their products to children; they now spend upwards of $17 billion,” he said. “Schools have become an increasingly popular place for companies to market their products to a captive audience of students.”

The federal General Accounting Office (now the General Accountability Office) identified marketing in schools as a growth industry in a 2000 report.

“This is one of the strongest bills in the country that will advocate for the end of commercialism in schools,” said Josh Grolin, program manager of the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, based in the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston.

Mr. Grolin persuaded Ms. Vickery and Ms. Lawn to testify at the public hearing after working with them on the issue of Channel One in the classrooms of Lunenburg.

“I would like decisions about curriculum, and what goes on in the classroom, to be made by professional educators in our own community … those who know our children and have their best interests at heart,” said Ms. Lawn.

“I would like to see our publicly funded class time to be used as intended — to educate children, not to provide a captive audience for corporate profit,” said Ms. Lawn.

Experts who also testified in yesterday’s hearing included Dr. Susan Linn of Harvard Medical School, Juliet B. Schor of Boston College, Diane E. Levin of Wheelock College and Dr. Alan Meyers, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center.

Mr. Koutoujian said marketing is a factor in childhood obesity, youth violence, sexuality, eating disorders, family conflicts and increased materialism.

“Channel One, not our educators, decides its ads and content,” said Ms. Vickery. She said the company is owned by Alloy Media and Marketing, which promotes its teen audience to advertisers.

“It is impossible for parents to fight every instance of targeted, in-school marketing,” she said. “We need to level the playing field. As parents of public school students, we need policies to protect our children, who have become valuable commodities to corporate advertisers.”

A small group of concerned parents in Lunenburg began their campaign last fall to eliminate Channel One viewing in Lunenburg classrooms during homeroom period.

“We became part of a special advisory committee to draft a policy on advertising,” said Elaine B. Welch, who wrote Ms. Vickery’s testimonial.

That draft policy was presented to the Lunenburg School Committee in March.

School Committee Chairman David W. Reif said the committee is reviewing and revising its policy on advertising.

“Both Lin and Kim have been valuable participants in stimulating our debate around commercial activities within the school, specifically around Channel One,” said Dr. Reif.

The revised advertising policy would effectively eliminate Channel One from the curriculum in the Lunenburg School District. The committee will hear the first reading of the policy at its next meeting and investigate the contract with Channel One for non-renewal provisions.

The legislation debated yesterday on Beacon Hill would go quite a bit further, and not just because it would affect every community in the state. Mr. Koutoujian said that “many cash-strapped school districts use advertising revenue to plug their budget gaps.” Some districts, for example, allow advertisers to post ads on school buses.

Many schools have approved the use of agencies such as Channel One because of the free equipment and wiring in classrooms that are offered.

With the elimination of Channel One in Lunenburg schools, the school district would have to replace equipment that would be removed upon termination of the contract — at a time when it is facing budgetary shortfalls of more than $500,000.

Massachusetts PTA president Ellie Goldberg also testified yesterday on behalf of Bill 489, saying: “These corporate advertisers take advantage of school officials and parents in underfunded schools. Underfunding of schools has opened the door to advertisers that work to turn schools into agents of businesses, and our children into walking billboards, wearing logos and brand names.

“Today, too many schools cooperate in corporate programs that encourage families to participate in product promotions and in advertising campaigns that lure children to Web sites for more indoctrination into the culture of fast food, violence and consumerism,” she said.