Friday, March 12, 2010

Pressed by Charters, Public Schools Try Marketing

A great NYT article about how the rise of charter schools in Harlem is leading regular public school to do more marketing and be more responsive to parents (it remains to be seen if they're actually delivering a better education to children):

She keeps a handful of brochures in her purse, and also gives a few to her daughter before she leaves for school each morning. She painted signs on the windows of her Chrysler minivan, turning it into a mobile advertisement.

It is all an effort to build awareness for her product, which is not new, but is in need of an image makeover: a public school in Harlem.

As charter schools have grown around the country, both in number and in popularity, public school principals like Ms. Espinal are being forced to compete for bodies or risk having their schools closed. So among their many challenges, some of these principals, who had never given much thought to attracting students, have been spending considerable time toiling over ways to market their schools. They are revamping school logos, encouraging students and teachers to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the new designs. They emphasize their after-school programs as an alternative to the extended days at many charter schools. A few have worked with professional marketing firms to create sophisticated Web sites and blogs.

…Keeping the classrooms full is not just a matter of pride. Dwindling enrollment is one of the criteria that the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, uses when deciding which schools to close, saying that it shows parents are "voting with their feet."

The prospect of being shut down has left educators in Harlem's public schools anxious. Teachers from closed schools keep their salaries even if they cannot find new positions, though Mr. Klein has been seeking the power to lay them off after a certain time. In some cases, principals and other administrators can lose their jobs or be pushed out of the system.

…The Harlem Success Academy network, run by the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, is widely regarded, with admiration by some and scorn by others, as having the biggest marketing effort. Their bright orange advertisements pepper the bus stops in the neighborhood, and prospective parents receive full color mailings almost monthly.

Ms. Moskowitz said the extensive outreach was necessary to make sure they were drawing from a broad spectrum of parents.


Pressed by Charters, Public Schools Try Marketing

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