Are school Web ads like being a little bit pregnant?
Chuck E. Cheese's generous offer to give schools 15 percent of the take from fund-raisers held at its restaurants: Tempting, because it's easier than organizing something on campus. But no thanks. Really, the company doesn't need the help marketing to kids anyway.
Selling advertising to defense contractors on school Web sites: Oh, this one is tempting.
It's happening in bigger districts across the country such as Prince William County, Va., Battlefield High Schools's site includes small ads for Lockheed Martin, the power company Dominion Resources and the bank BB&T.
The ads are sparse, and clicking on them triggers a warning and about 100 words' worth of disclaimer: You are leaving the school's Web site and please don't think that we endorse or agree with the folks at the link you're about to click just because we're sending you there.
District Foundation Executive Director Sharon Henry told The Washington Post that such ads have brought in $50,000 so far this year and she hopes to have $25,000 more in hand by summer break.
And $75,000 is nice money for something that involves less than an hours' work.
Gross commercialism of schools? Hardly, unless teens interested in buying jet fighters or electricity generators is a hot demographic in DC suburbs.
An inappropriate message for teens? Well, there's barely a message at all - just a few words and a clickable link, though it might be different if the words were "Haliburton" and "AIG." Even BB&T's a bit of a wobbler, and I'm sure some folks would quibble about Lockheed Martin.
Corporate marketing? Of course it is. Otherwise, these businesses would just quietly write checks to the district. For all I know, they do.
Even as recently as a year ago, I would have joined the crowd that's up in arms about this.
For advertisers, "by dint of constant repetition and close association with legitimated 'good' things, in this case schools, you unite your self-interested goals with the perceived public interest," Alex Molnar told The Post. He's director of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and author of a book on commercialism in schools. "And that's a lie."
I don't like the idea of the guys being exposed to any more commercials than they already see: 30,000 on television alone, according to the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood. I hate the idea of Channel One, because free electronic gear is not enough compensation for taking an hour of a kid's education a week to expose her to a heap of fluff. And no amount of donations from soft-drink companies justifies plastering a school with logos.
But let's face facts: In Big Guy's school district, 96 teachers and all assistant principals have received layoff notices. Not all will lose their jobs - it's part of the annual dance required under California law, because if teachers aren't notified by a certain date, the district can't lay them off later.
The district is using reserves to cover most of a $4 million shortfall this year but likely will have to cut $6.5 million from its $120 million budget next year.
Big Guy brings home notes every other week asking for contributions for classroom supplies. The teacher is practically apologetic. "Please donate only if you can afford to."
The amount our local district could bring in from Web ads wouldn't come close to what Prince William County is seeing. For one thing, the local district's Web sites are in such disarray that there's really no reason for parents to go there. Big Guy's school's hasn't been updated since August and several links are dead.
But to say times are tough in education is an understatement. If there's a potential for income from subtle ads that don't pitch unhealthy food or activities, officials should be able to go for it. It's eally no different than yearbook ads that have been sold for decades.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.