No TV Ads in California Classrooms, Schools Chief Says
May. 25, 1989
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An experimental TV news show for teens will be barred from California classrooms because it carries commercials, the state schools chief said Thursday, declaring, ''Our students' minds aren't for sale.''
The creators of Channel One are studying whether to offer the 12-minute-a- day show to schools nationwide, providing satellite dishes, television sets and video recorders in exchange for a guarantee students will watch the show daily.
But Bill Honig, head of the nation's biggest school system, vowed to withhold some state money from public schools that agree to accept the show billed by its makers as an innovative educational tool. Mandatory viewing of ads runs counter to state law defining schools' educational mission, he maintained. Honig, the state's superintendent of public education, cannot actually order local school districts to ban the show. But his control of the state's education purse strings gives him considerable influence.
Honig acknowledged television has great potential in the classroom. But he maintained that Channel One, a for-profit venture by Whittle Communications of Tennessee, would in effect put teachers and school administrators in the position of endorsing commercial products.
''The whole reason for this is to have access to kids' minds, our youngsters' minds,'' Honig said at a news conference in Anaheim. ''We would be ceding control of our curriculum to a commercial enterprise.''
Whittle, which tested the teen-oriented news show in six schools across the country - including Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif. - this spring, contended Honig was mistaken in his analysis of the show.
Company lawyers have checked California law and disagree with Honig's interpretation, said David Jarrard, spokesman for the Knoxville company.
''To come out and reject something that's not even in existence seems to us to be a little bit premature,'' Jarrard said.
Teachers who took part in the test screenings have given the show rave reviews. But several mainstream educational organizations, including the national Parent-Teacher Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, oppose widespread adoption of Channel One.
The show's youthful newscasters present the events of the day - with emphasis on how they affect teens.
It runs 10 minutes plus two minutes of ads for blue jeans, candy, shampoo and the like. That works out to six classroom days a year, including one day of ads.
Whittle will make participating schools an offer some find hard to refuse: In return for a guarantee students will watch the show every day, each school gets a satellite TV dish to receive Channel One and other programs, a video recorder and a color television set for each participating classroom. The package is valued at $50,000 per school.
Students who took part in the Channel One test at Gahr High found it helped with geography, reading and general knowledge of the world, said Principal Nadine Barreto. Many of them reported they had started reading the newspaper at home to follow up on the show's reports.
Ms. Barreto declined to criticize Honig directly, but said her district's lawyers checked applicable state law before the test began and found no problems.
And ads are hardly unknown in schools, she noted: ''Every high school in the United States has a library that has every periodical that is produced. In there you have ads for alcohol, contraceptives, tobacco - and nobody says anything about that.''
Since the Channel One classroom tryout began, media entrepreneur Ted Turner and the Discovery channel both proposed commercial-free news and documentary programming for the classroom. That initiative drew praise from the educational establishment, which acknowledges schools have failed to capitalize on the educational potential of television.
California's Honig would block Channel One from the state's 4.5 million students by using his authority over state grants that are made to individual schools on the basis of attendance. He promised to refuse to certify to the state controller grant applications covering time students spend watching the show.
If every high-school student in the state watched Channel One, grants for the time spent would amount to $29.8 million, Honig calculated.
''Our students' minds aren't for sale,'' Honig said in a written presentation of his objections.
Whittle spokesman Jarrard refused to speculate on how serious a blow the denunciation from the high-profile California might be. But he noted the company's target for the 1990 school year is to sign up 6,000 to 8,000 of the nation's 20,000 high schools.