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Channel One Impact of Knowledge Gauged

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The Channel One classroom television news show did not significantly increase the current-events knowledge of most high-school student viewers, according to the results of a one-year study released last week.

The study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that teachers and students overwhelmingly liked the 12-minute daily show, but that "its effect on the measured current-events knowledge of the average viewer was quite small.''

Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn., the producer of Channel One, commissioned the research. But the study's co-author emphasized that its conclusions were independent.

"This is probably not exactly the report they would like to have,'' said Jerome Johnston, a research scientist at the university's Institute for Social Research.

"It is clear that, by itself, Channel One is not going to reshape our kids' knowledge of world events,'' he added.

The study, "Taking the Measure of Channel One: The First Year,'' was released at the annual convention of the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco.

The report is based on the first year of a three-year evaluation of the controversial, ad-supported show developed by Whittle. The company required Mr. Johnston to agree not to study the effect of the two minutes of commercials included in each daily show.

Schools are loaned monitors and other video equipment in exchange for showing Channel One to most students on a daily basis. The show has been the target of criticism since it was first tested in 1989, but it is now used in more than 10,000 schools.

3 Tests Given

The researchers studied 4,400 students at 24 schools in 11 communities. At each site, they studied a school with Channel One and one without.

The students were tested on current events in September 1990, January 1991, and May 1991.

In the January test, the students in Channel One schools knew, on average, only one more correct answer on a 30-question test than those in the schools without the service, a 3.3 percent advantage.

In May, the average differences were even smaller, a 1.6 percent advantage for Channel One viewers.

A major reason for the small difference between the Channel One viewers and other students was that news of the Persian Gulf war dominated the four-month period before the test. All students had an unusually high exposure to the news both in and outside of school because of the way the crisis gripped the nation, the report concludes.

While the average gains for Channel One viewers were small, some individual schools in the study showed much better results, a finding that is being examined in greater detail in the second year of the study.

The report found that Channel One worked best for students of high academic caliber. A-average students showed a six-percentage-point advantage over control students on the tests, while those with C averages or below showed no advantage.

Among the other findings:

  • Teachers gave Channel One grades averaging from A- to B+, and 60 percent said they would recommend it to other schools and teachers.
  • Teachers did not often integrate the show into the curriculum. The researchers concluded it was more effective when they did.
  • Most students said the show had educational value, and about half said they learned new things about world and national events "most of the time.''

Lyle Hamilton, the manager of broadcast services for the National Education Association--a Channel One critic--said the results are not surprising.

"There is very little integration of that news program into the curriculum on any sort of a continuing basis,'' he said.

Summaries of the report are free, and copies of the full report are available for $10 each, prepaid, from the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48106. Phone: (313) 763-5325.

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