Flap Erupts over Ads on School Websites ; Critics Decry the Commercialism, but Schools Can't Afford Sites without the Ads

Article excerpt

When students at Adams Memorial Middle School log on to the school's website, they can check their homework assignment, e-mail their teacher,... and find the man of their dreams.

That last is thanks to an ad for Matchmaker.com that pops up along with the Massachusetts school's Vietnam War page.

Another ad touts: "Name yourself president. Start your own club or join one." A click to the site reveals a variety of message boards, with topics that include bestiality, incest, and spouse swapping.

"Most parents would justifiably find that completely outrageous," says Eric Brown, a spokesman for the Center for a New American Dream in Washington.

Adams students are not the only ones being pitched to from their schools' official websites. Footing the bill for sites that schools say they can't afford is the latest attempt by advertisers to enter the classroom. And it's not just the racier ads that have outraged critics. Some parents and anticonsumer groups consider the sites an extension of the school and question the appropriateness of Amazon.com or Gap hawking goods while children are supposed to be learning.

While no marketing group can say how many ad-adorned school websites exist, a perusal of the major providers shows the numbers to be in the thousands - and growing daily. Some contend that children quickly learn to ignore the ads, but others are pushing for more defined regulation.

The ads are an unwanted, but usually unavoidable, add-on to free websites offered by providers like Tripod.com or Lycos, its parent company. Teachers and webmasters who take advantage of the sites don't like the ads, but say it's the only way they can reach their students online.

"I would prefer not to have ads on my teacher page at all, but hosting costs money, and this was the only way I could get a web page for free," says Neil Sandham, a Calgary, Alberta, teacher who uses a Tripod.com site. "I have no budget to pay for this site."

Only way to afford a site

His complaint is common.

"Schools are under tremendous pressure to integrate technology into programs, whether it is worthwhile or not," says Alex Molnar, director of the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education (CACE) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "But they lack the resources to do the technological things they are asked to do."

That, along with a culture that encourages friendly relationships with business, has eroded barriers between public institutions and private interests, he says.

The same ads on the Adams school site top other Tripod.com- provided school and classroom sites around the globe. The Learning Network, the largest supplier of educational websites, and Highwired. …

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