The Third Way of public school education

All of the following began while reading Boing Boing. Daria fans will know this story.

Seminole County School District is, apparently, a very interesting place to find one’s education. Recently famous for signing a deal with McDonald’s that would have meant this was each child’s report card:

Adage

On the jackets, McDonald’s offered a free happy meal to any student with all A’s and B’s, two or fewer absences, or good behavior in a given academic quarter. Susan Pagan, an area parent, notified the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and an all-out public-relations battle ensued by early December. According to the campaign, the school district received more than 2,000 calls of protest.

But get this:

Regina Klaers, a spokeswoman for the school district, said in December that the school approached McDonald’s for the sponsorship, not vice versa. For the 10 years prior to McDonald’s sponsorship, Pizza Hut had picked up the tab. During that time, Ms. Klaers said, there were no parental complaints.

One wonders what the report cards looked like, under the sponsorship of Pizza Hut. One wonders why they changed sponsors after 10 years and – critically – whether or not the school approached McDonalds or vice-versa is not the issue: who insisted upon this design for the report cards? The follow-up concern, of course, is whether the parents so concerned offered to work with the County, the School Board and the PTA to work out some other solution to the school’s cash-flow crisis (casino, anyone? But seriously).

Or whether the parents, the community, the local media, or anyone at all marched on the Local and State houses of government, demanding to know just where in hell their multiple local and state income and sales taxes were bloody going.

So, Seminole County schools, already small-time infamous, doubled-down:

Despite concern about pushing advertisements to a young captive audience, the Seminole County School Board agreed unanimously Tuesday to let a Massachusetts company put its daily radio show on school buses.

Bus Radio got the go-ahead to broadcast a program of rock music, FCAT lessons and advertisements to about 4,800 students on 53 buses in a trial run that will go through the end of the school year.

If district officials decide it is a success, they’ll let the company put its radios in the district’s fleet of buses serving more than 30,000 students.

Officials say the radio program will keep students busy so drivers can concentrate on the road. Critics contend that it forces ads on kids who have no alternative but to listen.

To help win support, Bus Radio has promised the district six minutes out of each broadcast hour for its own use. Officials plan short lessons to help students pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The district also will get a share of the company’s advertising revenues, although that is expected to amount to only a few thousand dollars a year.

I started shutting down at the idea that there could even be a company such as Bus Radio – although it beats Clear Channel, I guess. It seems not to be offering much in the way of incentive to the school district, though – 6 minutes per hour, and a few thousand dollars per year? In fact, their website boasts an average of 4 minutes per hour advertising, 4 of PSA’s and 52 of music (and other programming). They also offer this:

Today’s AM/FM programming is not designed for kids. Inappropriate lyrics, adult- themed DJ banter, and commercials for products such as alcohol and R-rated movies are pervasive on the AM/FM dial. BusRadio offers a safe alternative to AM/FM radio with daily programming that targets three distinct audiences – elementary, middle and high school students.

BusRadio’s programming gives kids more of the music they want minus the offensive lyrics, with 1/3 the sponsorships per hour of AM/FM and positive safety messages and PSAs (see chart for hourly breakdown).

That cannot be the point, surely – am I an old man for thinking just don’t have that garbage playing? The schools could make more than that just by launching a website, calling it “We Need 10,000 Dollars” and waiting for the local Fox affiliate to notice it. They’d pull more than this per year just from the novelty and plain altruism.

Whipping out my calculator (okay, locating it over on the shelf and returning to the couch with it) and heading over to Mother Jones’ special report on campaign finance:

mojopiecharts

I work out that, between just the 4 front-runners across the two parties (actually only 3: McCain had no education money), as of the beginning of this year the education sector alone had contributed USD9.7m. By now half a billion has passed through the campaigns of all candidates combined. So as much as I like to give the Seminole County stick over their decision-making (quite justifiably), I can’t pretend it isn’t our priorities that put them in the position in the first place.

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