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Commercial Invasion of Schools Growing, Report Charges

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The commercial invasion of public schools is continuing unabated, with marketers constantly coming up with new ways to reach children in the classroom, a consumer organization charges in a report released last week.

Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, found a "disturbing" trend that includes not only more outright advertising in schools but also an increase in company-sponsored curriculum materials that often include biased or misleading information.

"In-school commercialism is at its worst, we believe, when it masquerades as educational materials or programs and offers half-truths and misstatements that favor the sponsor of the materials," the organization said in its report, "Captive Kids."

The 66-page report focuses heavily on sponsored curriculum materials, which have attracted the growing concern of educators in recent years. (See Education Week, 5/12/93.)

Consumers Union evaluated some 200 educational kits on their accuracy, objectivity, completeness, and noncommercialism.

Among the most egregious, according to the organization:

The "Count Your Chips" kit from the National Potato Board and Snack Food Association, which purports to help elementary school children with mathematics but contains materials that are "really ads for potato chips."
The "Caretakers All" kit from the National Live Stock and Meat Board, which Consumers Union said deserved special recognition "for its creativity in finding the most obscure and outrageous opportunities to get meat into the curriculum." The kit purports to be a lesson on land conservation but is "pure one-sided image-building for farmers and ranchers," the report says.
The National Honey Board's "What's Buzzin'" kit, which is designed to teach children cooperation but heavily promotes honey.

The report details some of the companies that help large corporations develop curriculum materials, such as Scholastic Inc., Lifetime Learning Systems, and Sampling Corporation of America.

Ads on Buses

The report also examines corporate-sponsored academic contests, which are supposed to motivate students to learn, "but what many do best is motivate students to buy."

Among the most commercial, according to Consumers Union, are Ziploc's "National Sandwich Day Contest," which promoted the sponsor's plastic bags, and a scholarship contest sponsored by Oxy 10 acne medicine.

Among the least commercial are the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, the Scripps Howard national spelling bee, and the National Geographic Society's national geography bee, the report says.

The report is Consumers Union's first about in-school commercialism since 1990. It provides hundreds of other examples of commercial efforts in and around schools.

One of the most recent trends is for school districts to accept ads on buses, which the Colorado Springs, Colo., district began doing last fall and which the New York City district is now considering.

Among the other recent developments:

More sponsored media programs such as, a video program for physical-education classes sponsored by the Reebok athletic-wear company and developed last year by Whittle Communications, the creator of the Channel One classroom news show.
In-school radio programs such as Star Broadcasting, which delivers music and commercials to 400 schools to air in hallways and lunchrooms.

Consumers Union argues that in-school commercial ventures compromise the integrity of education.

"Educators with no agenda other than meeting curriculum needs and educating kids should develop and control the curriculum materials used in classrooms," the report says.

It calls on schools to create "ad free" zones and asks American businesses to help schools without expecting a commercial benefit.

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