New study shows reduction in high quality educational programming for children

November 12, 2008

Dale Kunkel, communication professor at The University of Arizona, was one of the lead researchers in a new study by Children Now, which shows that only 1 in 8 children's education TV programs meet high quality standards.

The study, entitled "Educationally/Insufficient? An Analysis of the Educational Quality & Availability of Children's E/I Programming," evaluated the quality of programs claimed as educational/informational (E/I) by commercial stations.

Commercial television broadcasters are required by law to air a minimum of three hours per week of children's educational programming. The goal of the Children's Television Act (CTA) is to increase the availability of high-quality educational programs, such as PBS's Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. However, the guidelines that determine what qualifies as an "educational" program do not address the quality of the educational content.

Kunkel, with fellow researchers Barbara J. Wilson (University of Illinois) and Kristin L. Drogos (University of Illinois), analyzed 120 episodes across 40 program titles. Each show was evaluated on a range of educational criteria that are associated with children's learning from television.

Their findings indicate that most programs designated as E/I offer only limited educational value for child viewers: Only one of every eight E/I shows (13%) is rated as highly educational. Nearly one of every four (23%) were classified in the lowest category of "minimally educational." Most E/I programs (63%) were judged to be "moderately educational."

Children's programming is part of the "payment" broadcasters are supposed to deliver in return for their use of the publicly-owned airwaves. Kunkel observed, "Commercial broadcasters are clearly falling short in meeting their obligation to the nation's children."

Kunkel has testified as an expert witness on children's media topics at numerous hearings before the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Federal Communications Commission.

The researchers also found that 28 percent of E/I episodes were high in aggressive content, which includes physical or social aggression, undermining the purpose of E/I programming.

Studies conducted in the 1990s found that between 20 and 33 percent of E/I programs were rated as "highly educational." Thus, the new data suggest that educational quality is at the lowest point yet measured for E/I shows aired on commercial channels.

PBS shows were rated more educational than E/I programs shown on commercial stations (9.1 vs. 7.9 on a 12-point scale.) PBS programs tended to emphasize cognitive-intellectual lessons (55 percent of programs); whereas, commercial channels relied largely on social-emotional lessons (67 percent of programs), such as sharing or getting along with others.

The study reveals that the majority of stations (59 percent) deliver only the minimum required amount of educational programming, with just 3 percent of stations nationally offering more than four hours per week. Furthermore, 75 percent of stations schedule E/I programming exclusively on weekends, despite the fact that children watch an average of three hours of television per day every day of the week.

Eight commercial and public broadcast series earned an exemplary rating for their educational content: Sesame Street (PBS), Beakman's World (Commercial), Between the Lions (PBS), 3-2-1 Penguins (Commercial), Cyberchase (PBS), The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (Commercial), Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman (PBS) and Teen Kids News (Commercial).

"With ample models for success on public and commercial television, the mystery is why so many children's programs are still so weak at conveying educational messages," said Kunkel. "The study certainly suggests that the FCC should be monitoring compliance with the children's programming requirements much more closely in the future."

The report is being released Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein will offer remarks on the policy implications of the research and a panel of media industry, academic and advocacy experts will discuss the findings.

Source: University of Arizona

Explore further: Auctions are not best options for abandoned property

Related Stories

Auctions are not best options for abandoned property

July 29, 2015

If officials in distressed cities want their communities to recover, abandoned commercial and residential properties would be available through a managed sales program rather than auctions, according to a new University of ...

Collaboratively exploring virtual worlds

June 30, 2015

Today's students are accustomed to highly stimulating and interactive content, whether in the form of video games or mobile apps. As a result, they respond to a higher level of interactivity and engagement with educational ...

Recommended for you

Model shows how surge in wealth inequality may be reversed

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—For many Americans, the single biggest problem facing the country is the growing wealth inequality. Based on income tax data, wealth inequality in the US has steadily increased since the mid-1980s, with the top ...

Earliest evidence of reproduction in a complex organism

August 3, 2015

Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have found the earliest example of reproduction in a complex organism. Their new study has found that some organisms known as rangeomorphs, which lived 565 million years ago, ...

French teen finds 560,000 year-old tooth (Update)

July 28, 2015

A 16-year-old French volunteer archaeologist has found an adult tooth dating back around 560,000 years in southwestern France, in what researchers hailed as a "major discovery" Tuesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.