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And Now For Something That Isn't the Obama Speech

Are you sick of the uproar over President Obama's speech to students today? (It's in less than two hours, you know.) Whatever your personal saturation level, this controversy could well eat up most of what little attention span the media and the public have for education stories today.

That's not great news for Viacom and the Gates Foundation, which are staging a Hollywood glitzfest today to kick off a new campaign about the importance of a good education to young people's future prospects. Hey, isn't that pretty much what our president is scheduled to say to students?

When I say Hollywood, I'm not just speaking metaphorically. The event is on the Paramount Pictures lot, with luminaries from the entertainment, corporate, and policy worlds (yes, I said 'policy.' Right there next to 'entertainment.' How often does that happen?) lined up to walk the red carpet. (I am not kidding here. That's what they said in an e-mail to reporters.) But unlike the ultimate red carpet event we know as the Oscars, this one won't hand out gold statues. These folks are attending a conference where they'll hear about ways to improve U.S. education from the likes of Bill Gates, Deputy Ed Secretary Tony Miller, and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

The conferees will also see a screening of a 30-minute documentary that carries the name of the campaign: "Get Schooled: You Have The Right." It tells the stories of three young people who overcame obstacles, got an education, and now work for high-profile bosses (including President Obama). The documentary premieres nationally tonight on all of Viacom's stations, including MTV, BET, and Nickelodeon.

What kind of impact the "Get Schooled" campaign will have remains to be seen. The Gates Foundation (which provides support for Education Week and its parent company, Editorial Projects in Education) has ventured into the public-awareness campaign stuff before, with what some observers thought was a less-than-dramatic impact on public engagement. (Remember the Ed in '08 and Stand Up campaigns?)

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