Brian Kelley of Arlington went out for a free pizza last Saturday, his reward for meeting his teacher's challenge to read seven books, each more than 50 pages long.

"It took me the whole month," the Jamestown Elementary School fifth grader explained. "It's a good way to get a free pizza."

Brian got one of more than 240,000 awards donated monthly to Washington area schoolchildren by Pizza Hut Corp. through its literacy program, "Book-It."

The project is one of many ways businesses have entered classrooms in recent years with prizes, contests, coupons and discounts designed to motivate and reward students. Such programs, applauded by many educators, have multiplied since President Reagan encouraged private enterprise to become more involved in public endeavors.

Critics, however, contend that corporate sponsors are motivated by profit and by the goal of cultivating an indoctrinated core of young, fledgling consumers. Some educators also question whether corporate rewards are an appropriate incentive to encourage youngsters to learn.

Along with their report cards this month, some honor roll students in Prince George's and Fairfax counties were given business-size "honor cards" through chamber of commerce programs that entitle them to discounts at area businesses. The inducements included free movie passes and discounts at teen boutiques, reduced rates for dry cleaning and chiropractic services and free sodas at fast-food shops.

Though some educators fault these programs, others see them as nothing more than a public pat on the back by civic-minded businesses. "It's dumb to rule out private industry's role with the schools," said Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television, a group that monitors advertising aimed at youngsters. "Some of these programs are terrific and some are outrageous."

Some educators say the true test of whether to participate in the projects is whether they work.

Of Jamestown Elementary's 289 pupils, 200 read enough books in October to earn free pizzas in the monthly Pizza Hut program. Librarian Dorothy Bickley said children are checking out more books and stuffing a suggestion box with titles of books for others to read.

"For the kids who are reluctant, this just might be the thing to turn reading into a pleasurable habit," said Jamestown reading teacher Aileen Solomon.

These corporate gifts have a price, according to critics, who caution that schools may be unwittingly turning over their students to the latest form of advertising targeted at the $34.4 billion youth market.

"The corporations have seen that as a way to get schoolchildren indoctrinated with their product or industry," said Jim Mussellman, who works with the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

The staunchest critics maintain that too often businesses use their philanthropic involvement to promote their own corporate images among impressionable schoolchildren, if not to sell their products directly.

"Schoolchildren are a captive audience of minors," said Sheila Hardy, author of a 1979 book on corporate influence in schools. In schools, students cannot turn off the television channel, walk out or otherwise avoid subtle corporate advertising made through schools, she said.

For their part, businesses readily acknowledge the benefits of school involvement.

"We're making an awful lot of friends," said Pizza Hut's national spokesman Boris Weinstein. "An awful lot of people are coming to our restaurants with their children, and they're coming back."

Bowie Chamber of Commerce executive director Betsy Burian said its honors card program is patterned after ones used elsewhere in the country. It's a way for small businesses that cannot afford giveaways to recognize youngsters in their communities, she said.

"None of us are trying to pretend that we aren't also there to encourage business . . . because we are," she said.

Much of the business community's current involvement in public education dates to the 1983 educational reform movement that coincided with federal budget cuts to educational programs. As a result, local business advisory groups have been formed in most Washington area school systems. These business committees work with teacher recruitment campaigns, career development and programs to prepare students for the working world.

Among the supporters of corporate rewards is Arthur Dock, who was principal at Berkshire Elementary School in District Heights last year when children were awarded Shakey's Pizza certificates. Dock said the benefits to youngsters outweigh concerns about possible commercial exploitation. Pupils generally receive a lot of praise from teachers and staff when they are presented their pizza award certificates and are praised by the Shakey's staff when they go to collect, he said.

"This is positive feedback, positive reinforcement focusing on the child," said Dock, now principal at Morningside Elementary in Suitland. The entire family participates as well, Dock added: "It means the family is going to go. The parents are going to order sodas or whatever."

Joan Kelley said she did not mind spending the money for an extra pizza for herself and her husband when redeeming her son's pizza award last week. Another son, third grader John, also won a pizza award, and both boys received personal-sized pizzas.

"I think whatever you can do to get a child to read is just fine," Kelley said. "So what if Pizza Hut gains?"

Some consumers and children's advocates say there is sometimes a fine line between education and commercialism. "It's up to the schools to see that the program helps the child more than the company," children's advocate Charren said. "You have to be sure the prize is not damaging to the child and doesn't require a purchase," she added. "It's outrageous to have a program where obviously you have to spend {money}."

"In essence, the kids don't have to spend money" unless they choose to take advantage of certain discount offers, said Jacquelyn L. Lendsey, who serves as the Prince George's school system's liaison for business and industry. "They're being honored. If they choose to take advantage, why not use their academic achievements to acquire those goods?"

Locally, 243,000 students in 8,000 classrooms in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia are eligible to participate in the Pizza Hut program, whose literature lists endorsements from the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the International Reading Association. For its $25 million cost, the Book-It project reaches 14.4 million children in private, public and parochial schools, approximately 60 percent of all American youngsters in the first through sixth grades, according to the company.

Asked about possible tax breaks for the corporation, Pizza Hut spokesman Weinstein said only that the company bears the total cost of the program.

Craig Lindsay, who owns two Shakey's Pizza parlors in Prince George's, runs a student incentive program in which teachers may use the free pizza certificates to reward students for reading, high marks or good attendance, among other things. Some school systems have resisted his good intentions to help community schools while building a business, Lindsay said, especially in Montgomery County, where schools do not participate. "Some people are very leery. They think you're taking advantage."

In a program not endorsed by area school systems, the Four Dudes Shoe Store chain last year ran radio advertisements offering 10 percent discounts to any youth who brought in a report card to the company's stores in Marlow Heights and Capitol Heights. Straight As earned 30 percent discounts on some items.

Rick Nelligan, an owner of Four Dudes, described the offer as a "way of discounting without discounting," a tactic some retailers use to put items on sale without running into problems with manufacturers.

"It's got to be a promotional thing for the store," Nelligan said. "We thought: It's a way to get the kids in."

The Central Fairfax County Chamber of Commmerce started issuing honor cards to honor roll students at Fairfax High School last year. Students in Fairfax and Prince George's will receive the cards through next week and can present them to participating merchants. The discount deals include dollars-off on one item with the purchase of another, or buy one, get one free bargains.

Art Moshos, an honor roll student at Fairfax High School, said it takes a lot to inspire teen-agers. He earned three honor cards last year and one this fall, but has taken advantage of only one deal: a free meal from McDonald's.

"I don't think the kids who are getting a 2.0 {grade point average} are going to be motivated to get a 3.0," Moshos said. "But it makes you feel good. At least they're recognizing us."