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October 1, 2000
Vol. 58
No. 2


Research by the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education shows an increase in commercial activities in schools.

Pizza Hut launched a new marketing campaign in July. Literally. The company bought rights to paint its redesigned logo on the side of a Russian rocket that was delivering parts to the International Space Station. The logo burnt up with the rest of the fuselage after propelling the payload into orbit, but Pizza Hut was banking on media coverage of the event, viewed by approximately 500 million people, to provide a favorable return on its estimated $1 million-plus investment (Goetz, 1999). Pizza Hut executives settled on this marketing idea after finding a more ambitious one too pricey: using lasers to project an image of the new logo the size of Texas on the moon ("Pizza Hut to Put Logo," 1999).
Pizza Hut is well known in education circles for its reading incentive program, Book It!, which rewards students with pizza for meeting their reading goals. The theme for the coming year's Book It! reading list, promoted in the teacher packets provided to schools each fall? "Space: From Mythology to Technology," of course (Pizza Hut, 2000a).
The Pizza Hut example illustrates an important point: School commercialism doesn't occur in a vacuum. We are surrounded by commercial messages—in and out of school—which reinforce and amplify one another. Commercial activity in schools is increasing and raises serious questions about the role of schools in our society.
In its series of annual reports on schoolhouse commercialism, the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education (CACE) has found an overall increase of 395 percent in the number of press citations from 1990 to 2000 that discuss seven categories of commercializing activity in schools. The Center analyzed the number of articles published on each category in popular, education, business, and advertising and marketing literature to present an approximate picture of each category's presence in schools. Each article that mentioned one of the eight categories was counted as one citation, regardless of the number of times the category was mentioned in the article. If an article mentioned more than one category, the article was counted once in each category. We describe each category of commercialism below, with the percent change in number of citations from 1990 to 2000. Data tables and a detailed description of the methodology used are available on our site (www.schoolcommercialism.org).

Sponsorship of Programs and Activities

Increased by 248 percent. Looking for some way to market her employer's services to school families in Springboro, Ohio, Charlene Evans created "ReMax Night" at the local high school. Evans arranged for the real estate company to bring in its famous hot-air balloon, which remained in the area while the Springboro Panthers football team played its home opener. Company representatives and Panther cheerleaders handed out ReMax party balloons, and a former Cincinnati Bengals star autographed ReMax T-shirts (Budd, 1999).
Sponsored events such as ReMax Night happen regularly at schools across the country. CACE defines the sponsorship of programs and activities as corporations paying for or subsidizing school events or activities in return for the right to associate their name with the events and activities. Sponsorship offers a corporation the opportunity to associate its name with a good cause, to increase name recognition among important market segments, and to get its products into schools. The schools receive needed resources and develop connections with the business community.
From the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation, schoolchildren are exposed to company sponsorships. Examples from the 1999–2000 school year abound. Clothing company Eddie Bauer sponsored the final round of the National Geographic Bee for students in grades 4 through 8 (McQueen, 2000). Cape Cod Potato Chips sponsored a middle school contest in New England for building model ships in honor of the arrival of tall ships from around the world for the Sail Boston 2000 festival. Students were required to build their ships out of two cases of Cape Cod chips that the company provided (Magiera, 2000). In response to concerns about school violence, Pinkerton Services Group, a security firm, sponsored a toll-free anonymous tip line for reporting threatening incidents at schools in North Carolina (Pinkerton, 2000). The California Interscholastic Federation's San Diego Section, a high school sports group, boasts sponsorships from Gatorade, Spalding, Rawlings, and others, which provide the member schools with game balls, sports and fitness equipment, and money (McGrane, 2000).

Exclusive Agreements

Increased by 1,384 percent. Individual schools have long made agreements with the local soda bottler to supply beverages to the school. Frequently, the bottler would throw some promotional item into the deal, such as a scoreboard or cooler with the drink's logo on it. The 1990s, however, saw this practice transform from school-level agreements into multi-million dollar, districtwide deals that generally guarantee exclusivity to one bottler.
Although the exclusive agreements category has increased overall, the rate of increase seems to be slowing. A number of school districts have begun to question the value of exclusive pouring rights agreements—including Philadelphia and Santa Fe, which turned down $43 million and $2.4 million deals, respectively (Davila, 2000; Snyder, 2000). At the time this article went to press, the Madison, Wisconsin, school district, one of the first sizable districts to sign up for a deal with Coke, seemed poised to allow its three-year, $615,000 contract to expire at the end of August. School board member Ruth Robarts said the public outcry over the deal never quieted: "They felt, 'What are the public schools doing, promoting one product over another? And an unhealthy product at that?'" Robarts recalled (Thomas, 1999, p. 9D).
Ultimately, Coke might not be complaining too much about the Madison deal's demise. Sales in the district "have not met our expectations," Coke representative Kevin Morris told the Wisconsin State Journal (Erickson, 1999, p. A1). "Unfortunately, some of the elements of the partnership never materialized, and the partnership's true potential was never realized due to barriers resulting from misperceptions that we continue to attempt to address," Morris said (p. A1). Among those unrealized elements were student internships at Coke facilities and distribution of hats, T-shirts, software, and lesson plans promoting the company's products to students.

Incentive Programs

Increased by 231 percent. Incentive programs—corporate programs that provide awards, goods, or services to a student, school, or school district when students, parents, or staff engage in a specified activity or demonstrate particular behaviors—are firmly rooted in schools. They serve a variety of purposes, among them encouraging children to read, to stay in school, to improve standardized test scores, and to stay out of trouble.
Pizza Hut's well-known Book It! program expects to enroll more than 20 million elementary students in the 2000–01 school year, its 16th year of operation. A companion program, Book It! Beginners, is in its 3rd year and targets preschoolers. Both programs offer children free Pizza Hut pizza for meeting the students' reading goals (Pizza Hut, 2000b; Pizza Hut, 2000c). Another national reading incentive program is Sylvan Learning Center's Book Adventure, in which children in kindergarten through 8th grade are asked to read books and then take five- to ten-question online quizzes about the content. Participants earn points for quiz questions, which can then be redeemed for prizes such as discounts at K-Mart, free meals at Rainforest Café, gift certificates for Barnes and Noble, and movie passes for General Cinemas (Sylvan Learning Foundation, 2000).
The most elaborate commercial incentive program found by CACE this year was developed at Fleming Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan, which installed a Mini McDonald's. In exchange for reading, taking quizzes on the books read, and having good attendance, students earn the opportunity to buy meals (shipped hot from a local McDonald's) at the Mini McDonald's. Children can apply at the school's "employment office" to serve the meals. Local college students painted a mural of the restaurant's characters on the cafeteria walls, and the school arranged McDonald's-related prizes in its display case (Payne, 1999).

Appropriation of Space

Increased by 539 percent. Appropriation of space encompasses any allocation of school space—such as scoreboards, rooftops, bulletin boards, walls, and textbooks—on which corporations may place corporate logos or advertising messages. The category also includes the use of school facilities for commercial activities.
One type of appropriation of school space for commercial purposes that has gained prominence in the past year is on-site market research in schools. A leader in this activity is Education Market Resources (EMR), a seven-year-old Kansas company that claims to "enrich the lives of children directly and indirectly by providing high-quality custom market research to America's leading companies and brands" (Education Market Resources, 2000a). EMR conducts "more than 85 percent" of its research projects "in classrooms during normal school hours" (Education Market Resources, 2000c). Such in-school projects include one-on-one interviews, large or small group product testing, focus groups, interactive computer testing, and mock shopping experiences. EMR reports that "it has been proven that testing inside the school building provides a more comfortable and nonthreatening environment in which children respond openly and easily to questions and stimuli [emphasis EMR's]" (Education Market Resources, 2000b).
Recent reports of market research in schools included 6th graders in Kansas City, Kansas, filling out surveys for Toys 'R Us (Farber, 1999); ten thousand children in day-care centers and elementary schools across the country playing with toys in school for the "Great American Toy Test" (Brachear, 1999); and schoolchildren in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, comparing breakfast cereals (Tabor, 1999). Companies pay schools for their participation—from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the level of complexity and the time commitment required. The Kansas City school received $5 for each student who filled out the toy store's survey. The Lynnfield school received $600.

Sponsored-Educational Materials

Increased by 1,875 percent. Sponsored-educational materials are materials supplied to schools by corporations or trade associations that claim to have an instructional content, and are a common in-school marketing technique.
In the marketing publication Selling to Kids (1999), Leanna Landsmann illustrates the process of researching and creating sponsored-educational materials. Ford Motor Company approached Landsmann, president of TIME [magazine] for Kids, for assistance in producing an environmental education kit. "Kids are pro-environment and they think ill of people and institutions that aren't. . . . Ford got involved in schools because it wanted kids to be aware of its strategic initiatives—both today's and those to come (p. 6)." After interviewing teachers about what was missing in their environmental curriculums, TIME for Kids created "Heroes for the Planet," a yearlong series of special issues, classroom and send-home posters, teacher's guides, and a Web site. The materials "focused on scientists, everyday activists, and kid heroes. Each issue had advertising reviewed by our Teacher Board for kid appeal and concept comprehension. All teaching materials carried the Ford logo" (p. 6). From Landsmann's perspective, the kit was a success: 9 out of 10 teachers used the materials repeatedly over the year. "Plus," Landsmann noted, "nearly 90 percent of teachers sent the issues home for kids to read with family members" (p. 6).
Companies offer sponsored lesson plans on just about any topic. High school teachers can order a "McEducator Tool Kit" to instruct their students about job-seeking skills (McDonald's, 2000). Elementary students can learn the three Rs through sports with the National Hockey League's curriculum, produced in cooperation with Nike (Landsberg, 2000).

Electronic Marketing

Increased by 139 percent. The widespread pressure on schools to incorporate technology into every aspect of the school day appears to be driving the continued increase in the electronic marketing category. CACE defines this category as the provision of electronic programming or equipment in return for the right to advertise to students or their families and community members in school or when they contact the school or district.
Last April, President Clinton hosted a media event in East Palo Alto, California, to announce several public-private partnerships to help close the digital divide between technology haves and have-nots. At the event, companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, America Online, and Cisco Systems committed to donations of Internet access, hardware, and buildings for computer centers for impoverished communities. The corporations' beneficence did not go unnoticed by the local schools. A San Francisco Examiner correspondent reported that "at times the corporate presence at the event felt a bit heavy-handed. Members of an elementary school choir were decked out in T-shirts reading 'Cisco Systems and Costao School' and sang a song for the audience praising its corporate sponsor" (Coile, 2000).
Not all donations of technology or services to schools get such a public show of gratitude, but plenty of companies are hoping that this enthusiasm for all things high-tech will allow their products to ride in through the schoolhouse doors. Channel One, the veteran in the electronic marketing category, is still going strong (although the Washington Post reported that no new schools would be added to the network because of rising costs) (Cohen, 2000). ZapMe!, last school year's most significant newcomer, claimed a large portion of press attention with announcements of many strategic partnerships, several content developments, and an initial public offering of stock. Smaller efforts to harness technology for school-marketing purposes exist, particularly the use of the Internet to connect home and school through ad-bearing school Web sites.
Although the category of electronic marketing is maturing, some concerns that plagued it in its infancy still linger. Privacy issues posed by technology in schools received significant attention from legislators and the media in the past year, and critics still decry the presence of advertising. To the latter concern, marketers often respond that the answer is more media literacy training for students. Executives at Channel One took the task into their own hands by becoming a major sponsor of the National Media Education Conference, held in Minneapolis in the summer of 1999, provoking outrage among some of the attendees. The company also hired a consultant to develop a media literacy curriculum that was distributed to Channel One network schools in February 2000.
In-school marketers' approach to media literacy, however, puts the responsibility for mitigating advertising's impact squarely on students. Paul Folkemer, vice president for education at Channel One, said, "Kids are bombarded with 400,000 media images a year. It seemed appropriate, when I started to talk about it in the company, to share some strategies with teachers to make kids smarter consumers" (Golden, 1999, p. B1). Internet portal service N2H2's vice president for marketing takes a similar tack: "Our position is that there's always been advertising and there always will be advertising. The answer is for children to become wiser" (Golden, 1999, B1).


Increased by 3,206 percent. Privatization, the management of public schools, especially charter schools, by private for-profit corporations or other nonpublic entities is a topic of widespread concern. Currently, more than 30 states have charter school laws that allow a for-profit company to be a charter-holder or to be hired by a charter-holder to manage schools.
Education management companies argue that they can run public schools for the same amount of money per pupil as the school district and still make a profit. Yet there appear to be ways in which for-profit school management companies can increase their share of public funding. Edison Schools and the Sherman, Texas, school district mutually agreed to allow their five-year contract (Edison's first) to expire at the end of June, over financial and student achievement issues. District officials claim that they spent $4 million on hidden costs involved in Edison's operation of two schools. These costs included expenses related to the double layer of administration at the schools (Sherman's and Edison's) and expenses for which Edison was to reimburse the district but which Sherman alleges the company did not, including education services for handicapped students, building maintenance, and its portion of the superintendent's salary. Edison, however, says that it spent an extra $6.3 million on the Sherman schools (Doclar, 2000; Fox, 2000).
In Arizona, some for-profit charter school operators took advantage of a legislative loophole that allows charter schools sponsored by school districts to be reimbursed by the state for bus transportation costs on a per-mile basis, rather than on the per-student basis traditional public schools and state-sponsored charters receive. The Associated Press reported that the Tesseract Group's for-profit charter schools, for example, received $4,400 per student in transportation reimbursements in the 1998–99 school year, compared with $174 per student that state-sponsored charter schools received that year (Mattern, 2000). Tesseract switched all its Arizona charter schools from state sponsorships to district-level ones in September 1999, apparently to profit from the loophole before it closed at the end of June 2000 ("Charter Schools Raking In," 1999; "Charter Schools Take Advantage," 1999).
As the for-profit school management industry develops, questionable methods that these companies will use to ensure a profit are emerging. One such method is using distance education because it can reduce personnel and curriculum development costs. In a May 2000 press release, Edison Schools announced the three-school pilot test of its EdLab, a distance education classroom model. The EdLab represents an attempt to create a packaged curriculum for more efficient delivery: We believe it has the potential to reduce teacher workloads by decreasing lesson preparation time and by removing certain administrative demands. Further, we believe the consistency of our direct instruction can be improved by this approach. . . . Should the pilot prove to be an academic and financial success, Edison plans to produce a range of EdLab learning modules for most subject areas and at most grade levels. (Edison Schools, 2000)

Fund Raising

No results yet. In 1999–2000, CACE began to monitor an eighth category—fund raising. The fund raising category incorporates some elements formerly included in the incentive programs category, such as collecting particular product labels or cash-register receipts from particular stores. We consider any activity conducted or program participated in to raise money for school operations or extracurricular programs to be fund raising. Because this is the first year in which database searches were conducted on the topic, the data for fund raising were not included in the total number of citations for the year or used for comparison between years.
As many PTA members will attest, fund raising can comprise a significant portion of parents' school-related service. Fund raising is also an important entry point for commercial activities in schools; through it, companies can market to children, teachers, and their families by donating their products for sale or auction, by enlisting schoolchildren to be sales agents for their products, or by making financial contributions to schools when members of the school community purchase particular products or view advertising.
Schools are always looking for fund raisers that will bring in the most money with the least effort. This year a number of companies capitalized on that wish by offering e-commerce Web sites that give a commission to schools when their supporters shop at the site. For example, SchoolCash.com gives a shopper's designated school a commission of 3 to 25 percent of the purchase price when the shopper buys a product from vendors such as Eddie Bauer, Avon, Tower Records, and the Disney Store (Reddy, 2000).
To fully realize the potential of online fund raising, schools must to do more than just wait for the money to roll in, however. Schoolpop.com offers participating schools a marketing kit that includes "banners, posters, flyers, and letters to help communicate the program," and a Schoolpop staff member is available to assist in developing "a simple plan to reach your full community of potential shoppers" (M. Virgallito, e-mail communication, April 21, 2000). When the Guy B. Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, joined SchoolCash.com, they hung a sign outside of the school which read, "Shop at School[Cash].com and raise $ for Phillips" (Reddy, 2000).
Commercial activities now shape the structure of the school day, influence the content of the school curriculum, and determine whether children have access to a variety of technologies. Moreover, the number of citations indicate an emerging trend for marketers to bundle advertising and marketing programs in schools across a variety of media and thus gain a dominant position in the schoolhouse market. For example, Primedia owns Cover Concepts, Seventeen magazine, and Channel One, among other media properties that have an advertising impact on schools and classrooms. Seventeen and Cover Concepts have launched a coordinated product sampling campaign aimed at adolescent girls.
The effort to more fully integrate the schoolhouse into corporate marketing plans by securing control over as many school-based advertising media as possible may be the trend to watch during the next decade. We can expect schools to serve as launchpads for marketing campaigns that resemble high-profile movie releases, complete with multiple tie-ins for a variety of products and services aimed at children and their families. Although some attempts have been made at all levels of government to develop a legislative response to school commercialism, members of local school communities must take responsibility for preventing commercial activities from overtaking the essential purpose of schools: education.

Brachear, M. A. (1999, December 17). North Raleigh students don't mind taking this test. (Raleigh, NC) News and Observer, p. N1.

Budd, L. (1999, September 3). Just whose game is this? Selling in new arena. Dayton Daily News, p. A1.

Charter schools raking in transportation millions. (1999, December 26.) Associated Press State and Local Wire. LEXIS-NEXIS [Online database].

Charter schools take advantage of bus-funding loophole. (1999, September 21) Associated Press State and Local Wire. LEXIS-NEXIS [Online database].

Cohen, M. F. (2000, April 9). Captive audience.The Washington Post, p. W20.

Coile, Z. (2000, April 18). Clinton: Fight poverty with tech. San Francisco Examiner, p. A1.

Davila, E. (2000, April 19). Pepsi contract plan goes flat for local school board. Santa Fe New Mexican, p. B1.

Doclar, M. (2000, March 1). The Edison enigma. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, p. 1.

Edison Schools. (2000, May 25). Edison schools announces launch of EdLab. [press release].

Education Market Resources. (2000a, August 8). From the minds of kids: Improving the lives of children through market research, [Online]. Available: www.kidsay.com/1co_story/introduc.htm.

Education Market Resources. (2000b, August 8). The Kidsay system: How Kidsay works, [Online]. Available: www.kidsay.com/2kidsay/2ks_work.htm.

Education Market Resources. (2000c, August 8). The KidSay system: KidSay capabilities, [Online]. Available: www .kidsay.com/2kidsay/4feature.htm.

Erickson, D. (1999, September 11). Madison district debates ramifications of Coke windfall. Wisconsin State Journal, p. A1.

Farber, P. J. (1999, October 25). Market researchers turn classrooms into test labs. Advertising Age, 70(44), 24.

Fox, J. (2000, January 27). No class. Dallas Observer, pp. 28–37.

Goetz, D. (1999, October 1). Pizza Hut's new brand logo to take off on Russian rocket. (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal, p. A1.

Golden, D. (1999, December 17). "Media literacy" sparks a new debate over commercialism in schools—should programs that teach kids to view ads critically also take advertising? Wall Street Journal, p. B1.

Landsberg, M. (2000, January 23). Hockey not worthy of our worship. Toronto Star, p. 23.

Landsmann, L. (1999, July 7). Getting started in schools. Selling to Kids, 1, 6.

Magiera, M. A. (2000, June 7). Chip of a ship comes together. (Worcester, MA) Telegram & Gazette, p. B8.

Mattern, H. (2000, March 12). Financial woes dog schools.Associated Press State and Local Wire. LEXIS-NEXIS [Online database].

McDonald's Corporation. (2000, February 11). McDonald's launches the McEducator tool kit. [press release].

McGrane, M. (2000, May 11). Brand names are pitching in, help defray costs. San Diego Union-Tribune, p. D4.

McQueen, A. (2000, May 25). Winner credits family influence for perfect showing. Associated Press State and Local Wire. LEXIS-NEXIS [Online database].

Payne, W. M. (1999, December 7). Mini McDonald's opens at Fleming Elementary. Michigan Chronicle, p. B3.

Pinkerton Services Group. (2000, February 10) Pinkerton teams up with North Carolina for a safe school initiative. [press release].

Pizza Hut. (2000a, June 23). Book It! Introduction to 2000–2001 theme, [Online]. Available: www.bookitprogram.com /00-01/intro.html

Pizza Hut. (2000b, April 7) Book It! National reading incentive program enrollment underway. [press release].

Pizza Hut. (2000c, February 28) Pizza Hut enrolls 1.5 million children in Book It! Beginners. [press release].

Pizza Hut to put logo on Russian rocket. (1999, October 1). Associated Press.

Reddy, S. (2000, January 4). Web snares schools in search of free cash. (Raleigh, NC) News and Observer, p. A1.

Snyder, S. (2000, February 8). School board scuttles deal with Coke. Philadelphia Inquirer, p. B1.

Sylvan Learning Foundation. (2000, July 6) Book Adventure prize library, [Online]. Available: www.bookadventure.com /ki/pr/ki_pr_prizelist.asp.

Tabor, M. B. W. (1999, April 5). Schools profit from offering pupils for market research. New York Times, p. A1.

Thomas, K. (1999, August 18). Cola contracts lose fizz in schools. USA Today, p. 9D.

Alex Molnar has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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