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December 2, 2008

This final exam brought to you by Starbucks


File under "when the going gets tough, the tough (read schoolteachers) get creative."

What with school budgets being slashed so much that teachers routinely pay for supplies out of their own pockets, Rancho Bernardo (San Diego, California) High School calculus teacher Tom Farber decided there's got to be a better way.

His solution: sell ad space at the bottom of his test papers.

His rates seem quite reasonable, actually: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test and $30 for a semester final exam.

Here's today's USA Today front page story by Greg Toppo and Janet Kornblum on the new new thing in higher education.

    Ads on tests add up for teacher

    Tom Farber gives a lot of tests. He's a calculus teacher, after all.

    So when administrators at Rancho Bernardo, his suburban San Diego high school, announced the district was cutting spending on supplies by nearly a third, Farber had a problem. At 3 cents a page, his tests would cost more than $500 a year. His copying budget: $316. But he wanted to give students enough practice for the big tests they'll face in the spring, such as the Advanced Placement exam.

    "Tough times call for tough actions," he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

    San Diego magazine and The San Diego Union-Tribune featured his plan just before Thanksgiving, and Farber came home from a few days out of town to 75 e-mail requests for ads. So far, he has collected $350. His semester final is sold out.

    That worries Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert, a Washington-based non-profit that fights commercialization in school and elsewhere. If test-papers-as-billboards catches on, he says, schools in the grip of tough economic times could start relying on them to help the bottom line.

    "The advertisers are paying for something, and it's access to kids," he says.

    About two-thirds of Farber's ads are inspirational messages underwritten by parents. Others are ads for local businesses, such as two from a structural engineering firm and one from a dentist who urges students, "Brace Yourself for a Great Semester!"

    Principal Paul Robinson says reaction has been "mixed," but he notes, "It's not like, 'This test is brought to you by McDonald's or Nike.' "

    To Farber, 47, it's a logical solution: "We're expected to do more with less."

    The National Education Association says teachers spend about $430 out of their pockets each year for school supplies. This semester, Christine Van Ruiten, a teacher at E.C. Reems, a charter school in East Oakland, has spent $2,000. She scours Craigslist for free supplies and posts requests to DonorsChoose.org, which matches teachers with donors.

    Founded in 2000 by Charles Best, then a Bronx teacher, DonorsChoose has funded about 65,000 projects totaling $26 million. Best calls it "a more dignified, substantive alternative for teachers than selling candy door-to-door — and certainly than selling ad space on final exams. That's crazy."


The picture below appeared with the USA Today story.


Its caption: "A small ad for Arcon Structural Engineer Inc. on the bottom of the first page of a test paper in math teacher Tom Farber's Advanced Placement calculus class at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego."

December 2, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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What's most disturbing to me is that it has to come to this at all. Parents and other booster zealots never flinch at the idea of raising monies for school sports programs, but dare to mention that taxes might go up or try to get some fund-raising going for other, non-sports-related school needs, and people get quite flustered.

There's something grossly wrong in the world when we're complacent about the quality of the food that our children are served in school, but wouldn't stand for there not to be fresh new shoulder pads for the football teams. It's terribly saddening when there's no money to buy instruments for the school band, but there's a shiny new field house for the track team.

Posted by: Rob O. | Dec 3, 2008 12:21:12 PM

Growing up in NYC one of my fondest memories is St. Patrick's Day on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (above 75th and east of Lexington Ave.) where neighborhood Irish Bars would serve Guinness Draught (Nitrogen-stabilized in the keg) imported just for the occasion. The bartender would either draw a shamrock or my initial in the head - and sure enough, when the glass was empty - the initial or the shamrock was still there, only now coating the bottom of the glass.

Someday I'll put my chemistry degree to work and figure out the reason for that foamy stability....

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Dec 2, 2008 8:15:13 PM

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