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August 22, 2005

Why not target school ads at adults, not students?

No doubt that the Madison Schools would benefit from revenues that might come through increased advertising, as recently proposed by Johnny Winston Jr., chair of the Board of Education's Finance and Operations Committee.

On the other hand, increasing advertising to our students is undesirable for many reasons. Schools should not treat students as consumers, but as learners. Our students already live in an environment saturated with encouragements to consume. In addition, many of the advertisers with strong incentives to advertise to young people sell food products that are not in the kids' best interest.

My hope is that the Finance and Operations Committee will consider limiting any expansion of advertising opportunities to ads that target adults, not students.

Below is my proposal to this committee.

To: Johnny Winston, Jr. & Finance Committee
From: Ruth Robarts
Date: August 18, 2005

RE: Proposal for revised advertising policy for MMSD

I agree with you that the Madison School Board must consider whether there are significant opportunities to increase district revenues through increased advertising. At the same time, I am very reluctant to support more advertising to our students. In my opinion, we are already providing too many venues for advertising questionable products to students, particularly food and beverages that are unhealthy or are poor substitutes for healthier products.

Therefore, I propose that the Finance and Operations Committee consider limiting its exploration of this issue to researching the opportunities for advertising directed at adults. For starters, we have a web site and two cable TV channels. We have newsletters that go from schools to parents regularly as well as district publications that circulate widely. We have also a fleet of trucks and vans that move around the district every day. The demographics of our web site users, cable TV audience and recipients of school and district newsletters and publications alone should be attractive to many businesses that depend on adult expenditures, such as car dealerships, realtors, apartment managers, technology providers—especially those who sell education-related technology such as virtual learning tools---hardware stores, etc.

One advantage of this approach would be that we would protect our students from more marketing during the school day and school activities, while offering businesses that sell to adults a variety of venues and a good audience for their ads. Another would be that potential advertisers might be more willing to discuss their interest publicly, during our exploration of policy changes, because they would not be seen as preying on young consumers.

Obviously, if we raised significant dollars through ads, for example, on our cable TV offerings to the general public, we could use those dollars to reduce our dependence on taxes raised for “community services” and begin to expand the TV coverage of all Board of Education meetings. Dollars raised through other ads could be used to reduce the tax revenues that go to Business Services or Building Services.

The only change needed in our current policy on ads would be to add the words "to students". See below.

Policy 3660 - Advertising
The Board does not endorse the advertisement of any commercial or non-commercial product, materials, or service to students. Employees shall neither distribute to students nor otherwise use in school instructional or non-instructional materials that contain commercial or non-commercial advertising except as provided in Procedure 3660.
1. Non-instructional Materials:
a. Non-instructional materials such as calendars and posters that contain advertising may be placed in schools by employees, subject to the approval of the principal of such school.
b. Non-instructional materials that contain advertising that are not covered in 1.a. above shall not be distributed to pupils or used in schools except as approved by the Superintendent or her/his designee.
2. Instructional Materials:
Instructional materials that contain advertising shall be selected in accordance with the program materials selection criteria and may be used in schools if such materials are not obtainable through usual educational resources.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at August 22, 2005 9:41 AM
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