Whittle Communications, sharply criticized by educators over its commercially sponsored “Channel One” news show for schools, last week announced an advisory board for the program that includes Terrel H. Bell, former U.S. secretary of education, and Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Mr. Shanker, who has been a vocal critic of “Channel One’s” advertising and content, has indicated that he will not act as a “promoter or endorser” of the daily program.
“I continue to have strong reservations,” he said in a letter to Christopher Whittle, chairman of Whittle Communications. “But I am nonetheless accepting this position because it is important to expand the use of technology in the schools.”
Mr. Bell, who served as President Reagan’s first education secretary, will be paid a fee to serve as chairman of the 12-member “council of advisers,” although the amount was not disclosed.
In an interview, the former secretary said that, while he, too, has some reservations about “Channel One” and its advertising, he believes there is a need for a “telecommunications network for American education.”
“We have been very slow and not very aggressive or imaginative to use the technological marvels that have emerged over the past few years,” Mr. Bell said.
As for the commercials, “I’m hoping they will have an educational message of motivation for students,” he said, as did some of the ads that ran during Whittle’s seven-week test of the program last spring at six junior and senior high schools.
Although many education groups have objected to the advertising, Whittle is signing up schools nationwide and hopes to have 1,000 in place for the program’s March 5 launch. In exchange for showing the program, complete with commercials, the schools receive a satellite dish, video recorders, and television sets for virtually every classroom.
Mr. Whittle’s appointment of an advisory board filled with top educators and business leaders is an attempt to quell criticism, some observers said.
“It is difficult to serve on a board like that and not have it seen as an endorsement,” said Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which has opposed “Channel One” because of the inclusion of commercials. “I think their names will be prominently used in advertising pitches.”
Other members of the advisory panel include Lamar Alexander, president of the University of Tennessee and former governor of that state; Alex Haley, author of Roots; James Harvey, author of the federal report on education entitled “A Nation at Risk"; Matina Horner, retiring president of Radcliffe College; and Janelle Leonard, director of technology training for the District of Columbia public schools.
Also serving are J. Richard Munro, president of Time Warner Inc., which owns 50 percent of the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Whittle; H. Ross Perot, the billionaire Texas industrialist; Kenneth Rossano, chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s subcommittee on education; Joseph Scherer, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association; and Frederick W. Smith, chairman of Federal Express.
Meanwhile, a commercial-free competitor to “Channel One” began airing last month over Ted Turner’s Cable News Network.
“CNN Newsroom,” a 15-minute news show for students, is transmitted over CNN at 3:45 A.M. Eastern time, to be recorded by school officials and played later to students.
While “CNN Newsroom” contains no commercials, schools must rely on their own video equipment to record and play the program. CNN is providing a daily curriculum guide for teachers, which is being distributed electronically by X-Press and the GTE Education Network. Mr. Turner has encouraged cable operators to provide free hookups for schools and to donate video recorders and television sets where possible.
“CNN Newsroom” is similar in style and substance to “Channel One.’' Both programs feature young news anchors and fast-paced news reports geared toward a teenage audience. The CNN program draws on the network’s worldwide news resources. CNN said it expects about 1,000 schools to use the program this fall.