In one of the more surprising decisions that a public school district has made in recent memory, the Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado has started selling advertising space on student report cards.
For $90,000, Colorado's nonprofit education savings plan has bought the right to slap a big, fat advertisement on the bottom of every student report card for the next three years.
In a district with 86,000 students who presumably get four report cards per year, that works out to about 3 cents per placement.
Now, I understand WHY JEFFCO has been forced into this ridiculous decision: Schools everywhere are feeling the pinch of poor economies.
That means we either need to find new revenue streams — which is the choice JEFFCO has made — or we need to cut expenses even more than we already have.
But doesn't this scare anyone besides me?
In my horribly pessimistic mind, I can see the "next steps" playing out in sickening ways:
Local businesses will buy the right to print coupons on the bottom of student report cards as a part of behavior incentive and/or academic rewards programs.
As skeptical New Zealand educator Allan Alach pointed out in Twitter today, this is the PERFECT "socially responsible" marketing plan for Burger King, McDonalds and Pizza Hut, isn't it?
For every A he earns, Johnny gets a coupon for a free Whopper when a large drink and a side of fries are purchased. For every B, little Johnny will get a free Biggie Size upgrade on any Value Meal purchased.
And OBVIOUSLY — like my equally skeptical buddy Chris Wejr mentioned on Twitter today — kids with Fs will get coupons for free tutoring sessions at local learning centers.
Recognizing that some customers are worth far more than others, businesses will start negotiating different rates depending on the schools that their advertisements run in.
"We'll give you 1.1 cents for every ad you run in that poor, failing, inner-city school," the conversation will go, "and 3.8 cents for every ad you run in the affluent suburbs."
Worse yet, some strapped-for-cash district leader will buy into the "some communities are worth more than others" argument and hold out for 5 cents per ad in the rich schools.
In a seemingly spontaneous moment of sheer brilliance, some business leader will suggest marketing different products to families of different ethnic groups or socio-economic status.
In the worst case scenario, stereotypical assumptions about the interests of families of different races or classes will drive choices for advertisements.
"How about museum coupons for kids in the suburbs and Putt-Putt Golf and Games coupons for kids in the inner city?" the supposedly harmless thinking will go.
In the best case scenario, new marketing companies will come in and offer parents the chance to choose the types of coupons and advertisements they want to see on the bottom of their kid's report card.
"Would y'all prefer food coupons or entertainment coupons?" the thinking will go. "We offer both. How GREAT is that?!"
In another seemingly spontaneous moment of sheer brilliance, some district leader will start selling the rights to print advertisements on interim reports, too.
Why stop at formal report cards, right? Our school sends home grade sheets a few times per quarter. If we're slapping ads on report cards, why NOT slap ads on those interim reports, too?
Sure, half of our interim reports never make it home — but they've GOT to be worth something, right?
And what about that "beginning of the year" paperwork that goes home every year: Supply lists, student data sheets, course outlines. That's prime marketing real estate too, isn't it?
Aren't parents more likely to be on the lookout for papers early in the year — and if so, can't we make MORE money by selling ads on THOSE kinds of documents?
In a final seemingly spontaneous moment of sheer brilliance, local charter and private schools will begin buying ad space on the bottom of report cards in failing schools and districts.
Recognizing that this could put their own schools out of business, district officials will balk.
Feeling jilted — and losing easy access to a potentially huge market for their services — the private and charter schools will sue, claiming that they are being unfairly discriminated against by a public agency.
The trial will last 2 years and cost taxpayers $2.2 million dollars to defend.
Crazy stuff, isn't it? What makes it crazier is that every one of my fictional scenarios is TOTALLY possible.
So here's another solution: Why don't we start providing our schools with the cash that they need in order to educate our children WITHOUT having to sell advertising space on student report cards.
Is that REALLY asking too much?