school supplies or equipment; ads in school publications; media-based advertising (e.g., Channel One News); and free samples and coupons

  • Indirect advertising: corporate-sponsored educational materials; teacher training; contests; incentive programs; and, in a small percentage of schools (<2 percent), lesson plans or curricula sponsored by companies (Wechsler et al., 2001)

  • Market research conducted through or at schools: questionnaires, taste tests, and Internet surveys.

Only limited data are available on the extent of advertising in schools. The 2000 SHPPS nationwide survey found that the majority of high schools (71.9 percent) have contracts with one or more companies to sell soft drinks at the school (Wechsler et al., 2001). The percentages at middle schools (50.4 percent) and elementary schools (38.2 percent) are lower but still significant (Wechsler et al., 2001). Of those schools with soft drink contracts, most (91.7 percent) receive a proportion of the sales; some of the contracts include incentives for increased sales such as equipment, supplies, or cash awards. Advertising by soft drink companies is allowed in the school building at 37.6 percent of the schools with contracts; advertising is allowed on school grounds at 27.7 percent; and advertising on school buses is allowed by only 2.2 percent (Wechsler et al., 2001).

Data from the SHPPS survey (Table 7-1) give an overview of some of the commercial involvement of schools. In the 19 schools visited for the GAO report, most of the advertising was seen in high schools; examples included advertising on scoreboards, vending machines, posters, and on promotional materials such as free book covers and product samples (GAO, 2000). In many schools television programming is provided through Channel One News4—10 minutes of news, music, contests, and public service announcements interspersed with 2 minutes of commercials, including advertisements for candy, food, and beverages.

Although there is little published research on school commercialism, there are some indications of increases in the extent of commercialism in schools. In a survey of high school principals in North Carolina, 51.1 percent of the 174 respondents believed that corporate involvement in their school had increased over the past 5 years (Di Bona et al., 2003), the largest involvement being in the form of incentive programs (41.4 percent). Such changes have been noted by the press. An analysis of media references to school commercialism has found significant increases over the past 6 years (Molnar, 2003).


Launched in 1990, Channel One News is viewed in approximately 12,000 U.S. schools representing an audience of 8 million teenagers (Di Bona et al., 2003).

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