Corporate Advertising In Standardized Tests May Soon Become A Common Reality

Testing Force

Testing Force, from Kidney Bingos

New York is among the states that have signed onto the Common Core initiative, and students from third to eighth grade began taking the new Core-aligned standardized tests, created by Pearson Education. There is, however, a potential issue with the new tests: They contain corporate plugs that could be considered inappropriate advertising.

The plugs, which were placed in the state’s standardized English tests, include companies such as LEGO, Mug Root Beer, and IBM, among others, according to the New York Post. They also weren’t necessarily mentioned as part of the questions. The Post quoted both teachers and students alike who said that the trademarks sometimes had nothing whatever to do with the questions they appeared with. In fact, one eighth grade student said:

“For the root beer, they show you a waitress cleaning a table and the root beer fell on the floor and she forgets to clean it up. Underneath, they gave you the definition that it is a soda and then the trademark.”

And a teacher said:

“I’ve been giving this test for eight years and have never seen the test drop trademarked names in passages — let alone note the trademark at the bottom of the page.”

Advertising in schools has been used in recent times as a way to raise additional funding that states’ education budgets just don’t have. A year ago, public schools in Texas began putting corporate ads on their buses and even their buildings as a way to bring in some much-needed cash. The Huffington Post reported at the time that at least 12 other states were either considering similar measures, or had already implemented such measures, to raise needed cash.

According to The Annenberg Classroom, a branch of the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, some schools are selling ad space on locker doors, which has the potential to bring in more than $200,000 per year. They report that while some are uncomfortable with this idea, many realize that it’s increasingly becoming a necessary alternative for school funding.

There is another side to this, which is discussed in detail by Dr. Brita Butler-Wall, co-founder of the Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools. To her, corporations who use schools for advertising are merely claiming to be community partners that bring in those much-needed influxes of cash, while actually using schools and students for additional profit.

In a fact sheet titled “Risks of Commercializing Education: Why We Need Commercial-Free Schools,” she discusses how commercialization is already heavily integrated into schools, including with selling sodas exclusively to students due to contracts with the soda manufacturers, which can affect students’ physical health. Furthermore, advertising for products and services is, according to her, intended to create a sense of insecurity that can only be alleviated by buying said product or service. She believes that these ads are undermining education by disrupting students’ focus, and teaching them that all problems are best solved by spending money.

Following that line of thinking, inserting plugs into testing materials is another way to undermine education; it will keep students thinking about certain companies or brands instead of focusing on their subjects.

The Washington Post reports that, according to Pearson, the plugs appearing in their test materials weren’t bought and paid for, but rather, free, and unintentional in a way. Pearson uses previously published passages in its educational materials, and claims the following:

“As one of the main shifts of the Common Core State Standards is to help students read and analyze more authentic literature and workplace documents, brand names are referenced occasionally in the passages. Neither Pearson nor NYSED request that these brand names be added, eliminated, or changed. The brand names are not selected, but exist as part of previously published passages due to choices made by authors. Pearson and NYSED do not receive any financial compensation for product branding that is included in a passage or an item. If a brand is mentioned in a passage or item, the trademark symbol is included in order to follow rights and permission laws and procedures.”

They continue by saying that when a state decides to use such passages in educational materials, the inclusion of brand names is inevitable. Therefore, this is not intentional advertising on their part, but rather a possibly unfortunate consequence of using “authentic literature and workplace documents” to better enhance educational quality.

While there is no given that corporations will jump on this and start courting Pearson to intentionally plug them, there’s also no guarantee that they won’t, nor is there any guarantee that Pearson, being a private company itself, won’t see fit to increase its own profits this way. And if they did, financially strapped schools would not likely see any boosts in their own funding from it, which would be one of the worst types of commercial intrusion into public education there could be.

eve Rika Christensen is an experienced writer and loves debating politics. Engage with her and see more of her work by following her on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her blog, They Need To Go.