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Channel One: a poor trade


l Given the meager resources available to the city school system, it is understandable that officials would jump at the chance to equip schools with free color televisions, video recorders and satellite dishes. In return, beginning this fall, the schools have to show 12 minutes of programming provided by Channel One each day in the classes of 45 middle and high schools. Two of those 12 minutes -- or six hours over the school year -- will include commercials for such products as burgers, bubble gum and acne cream.

Most city children already watch too much television outside of school. Having 10 minutes of news programming each day isn't going to contribute much to their education. Channel One's news programming is much like that already available through commercial outlets. Moreover, Channel One's own study revealed that students who don't watch Channel One know about as much about current events as those who do.

So what's the value of this program? Channel One says it donates about $50,000 in equipment to each school; some critics say the value is more like $10,000. Having television equipment in city classrooms that can be put to other uses may be nice, but instructional videos will not do much to improve city students' low reading and math skills. They need more interaction with teachers, tutors and mentors and much less time sitting passively while the television blares at them.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and school officials have welcomed with open arms other propositions from large businesses. IBM came to Baltimore with its Writing to Read program, which cost the city more than $2.1 million. While the program accelerated the placement of computers in city schools, it only had a slight effect on improving reading achievement. IBM benefited handsomely by selling its computers to the city.

This partnership with Channel One is exploiting the city's school children. With the addition of tens of thousands of students, the company will be able to guarantee a larger captive audience to its advertisers. Where does this creeping commercialism of the schools stop? Will the city accept advertising for hallways in schools? Ads in textbooks?

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