September 1, 1999, Wednesday, AM cycle
Davis Signs Bill to Outlaw Product Plugs in Textbooks
By William Schiffmann
Will is saving his allowance to buy a pair of Nike shoes that cost $ 68.25. If Will earns $ 3.25 per week, how many weeks will need to save?
To parents raised on math questions dealing with apples and oranges, the use of brand names in textbook lessons might raise some hackles - or at least a few questions.
It sure did in the offices of state Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni, a Democrat who represents the San Rafael area and heads the Assembly Education Committee.
She introduced AB116 to outlaw such product references in school books bought with state money for classroom use. It sailed through both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis signed it into law Wednesday. After Jan. 1, all books submitted to the state Board of Education must meet the bill's standards.
Mazzoni, a former school board member, said she became interested when San Francisco attorney Joe Stein wrote to point out the use of real products in his child's school book.
"It was so blatant," Stein told The Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa. "We found half a dozen or more pictures and things that looked like they were ads. A number of items were thinly veiled product endorsements."
"My office immediately took a look at the book and we were horrified," she said. "It was shocking to see that public dollars would be paying for publishing logos and trademarks."
San Francisco's school district already bans textbooks with commercial references. The state Board of Education has had a policy against such references in school materials since 1977, though enforcement has been lax.
The math problem above, and a number of others involving such products as M&M candies, Oreo cookies, Gatorade drinks and Topps baseball cards, appear in a 6th-grade math book, "Mathematics Applications and Connections," developed by Glencoe, a division of McGraw-Hill. Other books contain similar uses of brand-name products.
"Basically, (the bill is) designed to lessen the amount or usage of commercial name-brand products in textbooks," said Erika Hoffman, senior legislative representative for the state Department of Education.
"There were a number of examples where there were literally four or five examples on every page. It's inappropriate, in that it's pushing products. We're trying to get away from this very quiet level of advertising."
But it's not advertising, said Bill Jordan, McGraw-Hill's director of media relations.
"As we develop textbooks, we get a lot of feedback from a lot of users of our books, and one thing that kept coming through loud and clear was, use real-world examples," he said. "Make it relevant to the kids."
"I think that education should be relevant, but not to the degree that a textbook is providing advertising space for free to the private sector," said Mazzoni.
Jordan was quick to point out that McGraw-Hill was not paid to use any of the brand names. The company simply selected names they felt would be recognized by the children using the books.
The cost of the measure will be minimal, since books now in use would be "grandfathered in" and won't have to be replaced with product-free books until they are retired, said Andrew Hagelshaw, senior program director for the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education in Oakland, a key force behind the bill.
"We oppose any advertising in public schools that turn students into a captive audience," said Hagelshaw. "You can make a textbook more relevant by saying bike without saying it's a Schwinn. You can say cookie without mentioning Oreos."
California's legislature is the first to complain about "Mathematics Applications and Connections," which has been the best seller in its category since was introduced about six years ago, said Steve Weiss, McGraw-Hill's vice president for corporate communications.
However, in response to the reaction, new books minus the brand names already are in the pipeline, he said. "We've already published brand-free editions that fully meet the intent of the Mazzoni bill."
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