Friday, September 6, 2013

Market public schools

    Everyone knows about schools. Nationally, everyone knows that public schools in big cities are bad, marked only by low test scores, dilapidated buildings and armed guards. Everyone knows that private schools, charter schools, even home schools, are better, that test scores are higher, resources are more plentiful, and campuses are safer.
    However, what if what “everyone knows” is often wrong?
    Public educators have an arsenal of incredibly positive stories that never seem to get told—stories about how their efforts change the lives of children and families. Public education officials are not conditioned to tell those stories, leaving everyone to believe that only the scores matter.
    Private schools are very good at telling their stories because their very existence depends on it.
    Ask parents of young children what school their children might attend. Those with means, and many who really don’t have means, will often go into great detail about the private and charter options available. In urban areas, some will tell of plans to move to distant suburban districts because of quality of schools there. An astonishing number would not even know the name of the public school in their current neighborhood.
    Public education was once a commonly understood mission. Americans accepted and supported the notion that public education should be accessible to every child or adult, regardless of ability to pay. Taxpayers ponied up property taxes to provide that education, regardless of whether they actually had children in school.
    Public schools transformed millions of British, European, African and Asian immigrants into Americans. In most neighborhoods, residents were proud of their schools.
    Not everyone knows this. Not everyone knows or appreciates the great job public schools continue to do with a vast array of different kids with different needs and talents. Not everyone knows this because public schools don’t tell their stories consistently well—or sometimes at all.
    It’s time to change that.
    In the public sector, marketing is usually considered a waste of taxpayer money. Taxpayers are supposed to understand a public service’s value, as if by osmosis. Instead of a waste, marketing is a good way for public schools to tell the great stories they have. It’s a way to reassure taxpayers and parents that they are more than receiving value for the time, money and trust they invest in public schools.
    All public schools are not bad, and all private and charter schools are not good. That’s just part of what everyone should know about schools.

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