NYC Schools Consider Portal to Raise Billions

The New York City Board of Education will see a proposal on Wednesday that will call for bringing Internet advertising into New York City public schools.

To provide students in kindergarten through 12th grade, parents and administrators with laptop computers, Internet access and e-mail, the proposal calls for the creation of a revenue-supported Web portal for New York City public schools.

Considering that advertisers and e-commerce sites involved would have a captive audience of more than 2 million students, the creation of such an educational Web site would draw $4 billion to $11 billion in revenues over the course of 10 years, according to a feasibility study by Andersen Consulting.

This would more than help the Board of Education cover the estimated $900 million it would take to get the product off the ground.

“The idea is [this plan] will be self-supporting,” said Victoria Streitfeld, assistant to the Board of Education. “We're looking for ubiquitous access. It's the beginning of the closing of the digital divide.”

Such a proposal is not shocking as Denver public schools already have an ad-bearing portal, said Jennifer Morales, assistant director at the University of Wisconsin's Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education, Milwaukee. “There's no denying that schools need extra funds. Administrators feel more pressure to get this expensive equipment. There is increased financial burden from that perspective. It's understandable that schools are reacting as they are.”

Technology providers such as Internet service providers may jump at the chance to provide their services in exchange for the access they will have to students, which may help subsidize the costs.

In addition to ad revenues, the schools also would earn fees for items bought through the portal.

The act of showing banner ads to school children will inevitably run into criticism, said Morales. “It raises concerns. It's like, what if a company did market research taste tests in gym class for a sports drink,” she said. “It's taking away from taxpayer-funded instruction. The distraction factor is a concern.”

For younger students, these ads may be misinterpreted. “Depending on the age group of the students, it may get kids thinking that looking at a marketing effort in school is condoned or endorsed by school and their parents. It confuses the message,” she said.

Privacy concerns are another potential stumbling block. “Companies might retain the right to track students' Web surfing behavior,” Morales said.

The proposal does not call for the tracking of students' Web habits.

The genesis of this proposal came from the Teaching and Learning in Cyberspace Task Force that was created by the board in July 1999. The task force put together the proposal complete with the study by Andersen Consulting.

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