Options for 'Ready To Learn' TV Programming Detailed

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WASHINGTON--The current public-television structure would provide the greatest reach for a proposed new "ready to learn'' programming service for preschool children, a report submitted to Congress last week concludes.

The report by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting recommends three options for providing an expanded schedule of television programming to help prepare young children to enter school:

  • A "universal access'' service in which public-television stations would clear their daytime schedules for a national broadcast of 10 to 12 hours of preschool programming.
  • A plan allowing local stations to make their own decisions on scheduling the same 10 to 12 hours of programming.
  • A 24-hour ready-to-learn cable channel that would largely bypass public-television stations.

The ready-to-learn programming would likely include current Public Broadcasting Service preschool shows such as "Sesame Street'' and "Barney & Friends.'' But the report also calls for the development of new shows tailored to preschool children and services for parents and child-care providers.

"New ready-to-learn programming for children would reach well beyond the television set'' with such ancillary educational materials as books and magazines, states the report, "Public Broadcasting: Ready to Teach.''

'Universal Access' Option

The estimated cost to provide new programming for a "medium'' level of service--up to 12 hours a day--would be $171 million initially and $21 million annually after that, the report suggests.

Any new service would require further funding for the chosen delivery system and for promotion and outreach, the report adds.

The proposal for a ready-to-learn channel or service stems from recommendations made last year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The foundation's report, "Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation,'' suggested that better use of educational television was among the steps that could be taken to improve children's readiness for school.

Congress requested the C.P.B. report last year as an amendment to the reauthorization bill for the federally funded, nonprofit corporation.

The report leans toward the "universal access'' delivery system because a broadcast service could reach the greatest number of children.

"If implemented tomorrow, [the service] would be available in 99 percent of U.S. households tomorrow,'' the report says.

However, a national feed of preschool programming would require local public-television stations to bump daytime programs that are not geared to young children.

A cable channel would provide a 24-hour outlet for preschool programming, but cable television currently reaches just 57 percent of U.S. households, the report states, and cable channels must persuade local cable systems to carry their signals.

The third delivery option would allow local public-television stations to retain their autonomy over scheduling, but it would likely result in a piecemeal implementation of the service nationwide, the report states.

The report says that funding for the proposed service could come from current supporters of public broadcasting, such as corporations, foundations, and viewers.

Funding Addressed

A cable channel could charge fees to subscribers, but the report notes the tradeoff between high license fees and the number of cable systems likely to carry such a channel.

Last year, Congress passed the Ready to Learn Act, a measure authorizing $50 million in fiscal 1993 to support the development of ready-to-learn programming and to establish an office in the Education Department to oversee the effort.

But no money has been appropriated for the measure, and the C.P.B. report makes no mention of using the law as a starting point for the proposed service.

A spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the sponsor of the Ready to Learn Act, said last week that Mr. Kennedy had not yet seen the C.P.B. report.

The report is available from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 901 E St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004.

Vol. 12, Issue 21

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