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The following was written by guest blogger Christy Glaubke, Director, Children & the Media,
Children Now

I was a sophomore in high school when my history teacher sternly
warned the class that we would have to memorize the entire preamble to the U.S.
Constitution. To illustrate what a daunting task it would be, she began to
recite it for us, “We the people of the United States of America, in order
to form a more perfect union…
” Within seconds nearly every kid in my class was
singing, verbatim, the entire preamble. We had already learned it—by watching
ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! on Saturday
morning television.

I have never forgotten the look of utter shock on Sister
Mary Margaret’s face, nor the lesson I learned that day—that television has an
extraordinary ability to educate children in highly entertaining, engaging
ways. The key to ensuring that children benefit from television’s potential,
however, is to provide them with access to quality
educational content.

In the 1990s, Congress and the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) enacted the Children’s Television Act (CTA) and Three Hour
Rule
. Together these regulations require commercial broadcast television
stations to provide three hours per week of educational/informational (E/I) programming
“specifically designed” to serve the educational needs of children in return
for the free use of publicly-owned airwaves. Unfortunately, the FCC doesn’t
actively monitor broadcasters’ compliance with the rules. Instead, they depend
upon the public to report broadcasters’ failure to fulfill their public
interest obligations to children.

Children Now, therefore, commissioned a study, Educationally/Insufficient? An Analysis of the Availability and Educational
Quality of Children’s E/I Programming
by Dr. Dale Kunkel (University of Arizona)
and Dr. Barbara J. Wilson (University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign) to evaluate the quality of broadcasters’ E/I programs.

The
E/I schedules of 135 stations in 24 markets were examined and content analyses
were conducted on three episodes from each of the 30 E/I programs offered on
these stations. Episodes were judged to be either highly, moderately or
minimally educational based upon their inclusion of six quality criteria:
lesson clarity, integration, involvement, applicability, importance and
reinforcement.

The results revealed that while nearly all stations in the
study reported airing three hours per week of E/I programs, the vast majority
of their educational programs contained little educational value.
Of the 90
episodes assessed, only 12 (13%) were determined to be highly educational.
Nearly twice as many (23%) were judged to be minimally educational, meaning
that they did not earn a high score on more than one of the six quality
measures.

We also found that educational programs are not easily
accessible on broadcast television. A large majority of stations (59%) provided
the least possible amount of programming, three hours per week, for an average
of about 25 minutes per day. Only 3% of stations exceeded four hours per week
of E/I programming. Perhaps more problematic, a full 75% of stations offered
E/I shows solely on Saturdays or Sundays, leaving little opportunity for kids
to see E/I programs on weekday mornings or afternoons when many are likely to
be watching television.

The research concludes that broadcast television is clearly
not living up to its potential to serve as an educational resource for
children. Children Now believes that creating the change necessary to guarantee
quality educational television programming will require action from everyone
who plays a role in this system, including policymakers, the broadcast industry
and parents. We will be actively working in the coming months to provide each
of these stakeholder groups the information and tools they need to do so.

 

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