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Education Groups Media Campaigns Aim to Restore Confidence in Schools

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The camera pans in on Ed Asner, the star who plays the title role in television's popular "Lou Grant." He is sitting in a classroom, reminiscing about the teacher who helped him get started on the school paper. "You could pay back that teacher who was special to you," says Mr. Asner, "by getting involved in public schools."

The TV spot is a public service announcement produced by the National Education Association (NEA). It is part of a campaign to counteract public education's negative image across the country and to build public support for America's schools at a time when budgets are being cut, teachers are being laid off, and schools are being closed.

In late August, the NEA sent a series of radio and TV spots featuring Mr. Asner to every commerical radio and TV station in the country and to some public TV stations as well. "This is part of an ongoing campaign to get the community involved in schools again," says Karen Jaffe, a spokesperson for the 1.8-million-member union. She says the group is responding to a number of factors hurting public schools--from a simple lack of interest to outright hostility.

The NEA is not the only organization devoting time, energy, and money to media efforts to improve the public's perception of the schools. Groups representing school boards, administrators, principals, and teachers are using ads, films, slide shows, and brochures to try to raise public confidence in the schools.

The organizations are also advising their members on how to promote public education in their communities. But the nea campaign is the most ambitious and expensive of all the efforts.

Other associations sponsoring promotional efforts include:

  • The National School Boards Association (NSBA). It annually sponsors public service announcements (psa's) that promote public education. At a cost of $30,000 for production and distribution, the organization's campaign this year features testimonials by students on why they like school.
  • The National School Public Relations Association. It is offering school districts a $130 multi-media kit called "Building Public Confidence In Your Schools," which features 20 examples of successful public-relations campaigns and a script with slides on the achievements of schools. The group has also been working with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) to form a high-visibility citizen's group devoted to promoting citizen confidence in schools.

In mid-November, in recognition of "American Education Week," the Parent Teachers Association, NEA, NSBA, the U.S. Education Department, and several other groups plan to use posters, bumper-stickers, and other material to promote the theme: "American Education: Partners in Our Children's Future."

  • The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its locals are sponsoring a series of five spot announcements for radio stations which highlight the accomplishments of public schools and try to illustrate such problems as vandalism. The state and local affiliates have been trying to persuade local stations to run the spots without charge as public service announcements, but, when that fails, they have been buying air time. The aft spent about $10,000 producing the five ads. Last week, the union sent out copies of the scripts to 3,000 radio stations.
  • The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is now filming a 15-minute movie featuring the Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling; Vernon Jordan, president of the Urban League; the president of Shell Oil; and other notables explaining how public education contributes to American life. It will be made available to association members across the country for use in local communities.

The group has already published a brochure, "What's Right With Secondary Schools," that has been circulated to 200,000 people, according to Lew Armistead, director of public information for the organization.

"Educators have to realize that it's no longer enough to teach kids," says Mr. Armistead.

"We live in a media-oriented society, and we need to let people know what we're doing."

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