"This administration is enthusiastically committed to opening up opportunities for every youngster, particularly during his first five years of life, and is pleased to be among the sponsors of your distinguished program."
--President Richard M. Nixon
SPENT A LOT OF MONEY ON THIS
Eight months after Morrisett’s initial call, Joan Cooney’s report was ready. There was indeed a young and impressionable mind out there hungering for information and extremely capable of receiving and storing it in large doses. The report recommended that in order to be substantially narrow the achievement gap between the disadvantaged and middle class child, disadvantaged children should be taught much earlier. Nothing startling here. That’s what Head Start was all about. Granted that the need for beginning education at a much earlier age is important, but what would it cost? To do it through conventional channels, one estimate put the bill at 2.75 billion dollars, which didn’t include the prohibitive cost of constructing new classrooms to house the five million or more children preschool education would add to the nation’s school rolls. A more viable, far less costly alternative would be the use of television. This approach would be particularly effective for preschoolers who were already heavy viewers and whose intellectual state was still relatively clean. But the report warned that the teaching approach would have to be new, different, and exciting. It had to keep this hard-to-please and fickle audience interested. No teacher in front of the blackboard for this group.
“Kids went for quality on TV, particularly commercials which were often the costliest items, the production running up to $60,000 a minute,” Joan Cooney recalls: “I recommend that a children’s educational TV program should not be attempted unless you are willing to spend a large amount of money. You have to give the kids the quality that commercials had accustomed them to. It could prove that by spending as much money on every minute of children’s programming as advertising agencies would spend on every minute of commercials, we would reduce airwave pollution. Spend a lot of money on this. Put what the kids already like and enjoy to educational advantage. Be bold, be current, be now.”
The next steps were obvious. Wanted: staff—talented; money—lots. While Joan Cooney began searching out the people, Morrisett went after the financing.
Carnegie Corporation supported the idea strongly and they also pursued their “friendly rivals” in public broadcasting, the Ford Foundation and the Markle Foundation, to get them to contribute large amounts also. But the four million dollars they pledged jointly was only half the amount needed to get the show on the road. Another four million had to be forthcoming before any planning for the year could begin.
What would be the most logical place to get funds for a project that entailed television and a captive audience, prestige and power? Naturally, the major commercial networks. However, when Morrisett took his proposal to the networks, he got the following results: NBC wasn’t ready; CBS wasn’t willing; Westinghouse Broadcasting wasn’t able.
Enter the United States Office of Education—as hero. It, along with three other federal agencies—the Office of Economic Opportunity, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Endowment for the Humanities—added weight, and more important, financial backing.
In March 1968 a two-phase project was announced: 1) research and preparation 2) Airing an experimental nationwide television program designed expressly for the preschool audience.
Children’s Television Workshop was off and running—with a staff of one.