Why advertise the public schools?

When I take the subway to school in the mornings, I sometimes puzzle over the ads posted in the cars–ads promoting nothing other than our very own public schools, or rather, someone’s story about how much progress we’re making under the current leadership.

These ads cost $270,000 and are part of a public relations campaign by the Fund for Public Schools. It seems strange that we would need to advertise our own public schools–but the schools are not really the subject of the ads. One of the ads states proudly that 800,000 teachers, parents, and students responded to a survey. Now who would spend thousands of dollars on an ad like that? Not teachers. Not parents. Not students.

Who funds the Fund for Public Schools? We do not know, for the organization has made the most of a loophole that exempts it from disclosing such information.

What are the ads for? Supposedly the Fund for Public Schools exists in order to attract private donors to the school system. But why would those private donors be riding the J train out to East New York early in the morning? East New York is a poor section of Brooklyn. The airport is out a little further, but I imagine that if the potential millionaire donors were going to JFK, they’d take a cab or car.

No, this can’t be for money. I suspect the Fund for Public Schools is doing this for another reason: to get flimsy logic wafting in our minds. If we come to believe that a survey is a sign of progress, then we won’t blink twice over the other ads, like the one that reads, “Because finishing is the start of a better future, New York City public high schools have increased graduation rates by more than 20% since 2002.”

The 20% figure has been roundly disputed–but I would also dispute the reasoning, “Because finishing is the start of a better future.” Is that why graduation rates have supposedly increased? Can platitudes improve our graduation rates?

Don’t think about it. Just “Keep It Going NYC.”

Comments

  1. If Bush can use taxpayer money to bribe Armstrong Williams to speak highly of NCLB, then why can’t supporters of public schools spend money promoting public schools?

    Gates and Broad use their money to bash public schools all the time.

  2. Aren’t they just promoting Mayor Bloomberg?

  3. Diana Senechal says:

    Yes, of course, they’re promoting Bloomberg, and how? By promoting sloppy reasoning. Clear reasoning would not help his cause.

  4. Andromeda says:

    Isn’t advertising one of the necessary outcomes of a functioning competitive system? Insofar as there *are* widely accessible alternatives to public schools, a functioning market in educational choices, we would expect to see advertising.

    Of course there are thorny questions of how to allocate resources to advertising vs. substantive issues. And, not being a New Yorker, I haven’t seen the specific ads and I don’t know how well that allocation question is being handled. But the mere existence of ads doesn’t bug me at all. Insofar as it suggests that the public schools are realizing that they need to appeal to students rather than be entitled to take them for granted, it’s a good thing.

  5. Diana Senechal says:

    Andromeda–you can see some of the ads by following the links.

    This ad campaign is not for the public schools. As NYC Educator pointed out, this is for Bloomberg.

    If their purpose was to support the public schools, wouldn’t they explain themselves a little more clearly? Howard Levy points out the strange stagnancy of these ads. They ask for no action and provide no context.

  6. I think complaining here does not address the cost issue. Why not contact the donors and pose this question. Here is the link to the Fund of Public Schools Annual Reports (05-07): http://schools.nyc.gov/FundForPublicSchools/AboutUs/AnnualReport/default.htm

  7. Tracy W says:

    I suspect the Fund for Public Schools is doing this for another reason: to get flimsy logic wafting in our minds. If we come to believe that a survey is a sign of progress, then we won’t blink twice over the other ads

    What’s the evidence supporting this hypothesis? Is it not possible that picking apart the flimsy logic of the first ad will simply be giving you practice in picking about the flimsy logic of other, future, ads? I understand that, generally, if you practice something, it gets easier to do.

    I suspect that the ad is aimed at people who don’t think critically in the first place. In which case it’s hard to see how the first ad will really change their reactions to future ads.

  8. Diana Senechal says:

    Good point, Tracy. I suspect you’re right. But what would motivate someone to pick apart one of those ads? Either a penchant for logic or a strong sense that something isn’t quite right with them.

    The ads are lulling. Unless you have a reason or tendency to look at them closely, you might just take them in. They don’t ask anything of anyone. They don’t ask for money, help, signatures, or anything else.

    And they seem to set up a pattern: “Because X, Y” where the relationship between X and Y is questionable at best.

  9. Diane,

    Sloppy reasoning is the hallmark of Michael Bloomberg’s school program. PR is the one area in which they really shine. I watched their commercial, where they compared the old school to one of the new “academies,” which represented 20% of the previous school, different students, and inevitably a highly reduced (if not completely erased) percentage of special ed., ELL and kids poor enough to need free lunch. It’s apples and oranges, not the whole school, and not saving the school but ending it.

    Who knows what even happened to the kids who attended the old school?

    Yet I’d wager that occurred to few people watching the commercial.

  10. Tracy W says:

    As opposed to normal ads and political slogans, which are marvels of precise logical reasoning that would awe Spock, and never for example present the impression that by wearing a particular brand of deoderant you will have pretty girls attracted to you all day.

    Ads for charities also fascinate me. Eg one on the radio basically ran “Muscular dystrophy is horrible. Give money.” with nothing about whether the money would go to research into medical treatments or whether it was just to provide support to sufferers like adjustments to their houses. One of my friends from primary school had muscular dystrophy so I’m very sympathetic to the cause, but the approach of that ad made me scratch my head.

    Or political ads that claim responsibility or attribute blame for economic events that would have happened regardless of who was in power (eg in NZ the economic state of rural areas is mostly determined by world food and wool prices, which I doubt very much can be significantly affected by NZ’s Minister for Regional Development).

    I don’t see the point in running up massive expenses simply trying to encourage sloppy reasoning when so many companies and organisations are willing to encourage sloppy reasoning anyway in the pursuit of making more money, raising more money, or getting elected. Under the circumstances the marginal benefit strikes me as likely to be incredibly tiny.

  11. Diana Senechal says:

    I never said the Fund for Public Schools was alone in encouraging sloppy reasoning. They have plenty of company. But they do establish a particular cadence. I bet we’ll be hearing that cadence again.

  12. Ever notice that really high-quality products tend to need very little in the way of paid advertising? People typically find out about them through word-of-mouth….

  13. Andy Freeman says:

    > If Bush can use taxpayer money to bribe Armstrong Williams to speak highly of NCLB, then why can’t supporters of public schools spend money promoting public schools?

    No one said that it was wrong for supporters of public schools to spend their money as they see fit. However, MiT appears to believe that it’s wrong for folks who don’t toe that line to spend their money to express their opinion.

    WRT public money, if it was wrong for Bush to spend public money as MiT describes, why is correct (in MiT’s eyes) for public money to be spent in analogous ways?

    Of course, we’ve seen it before. If someone is promoting a position that MiT likes, whatever they do is good. If someone is promoting a position that MiT dislikes, whatever they do is bad.

  14. Tracy W says:

    Diane, I was responding to your statement that:

    No, this can’t be for money. I suspect the Fund for Public Schools is doing this for another reason: to get flimsy logic wafting in our minds.

    I don’t think this explains their reasoning, as the marginal effect of another ad with flimsy logic on people’s reasoning skills given all the existing ads out there with flimsy logic seems to me likely to be pretty minimal.

    And unless advertisting logic in NY subways is normally far above what I’ve experienced in other parts of the world, I don’t think that the Fund for Public Schools can be fairly said to be establishing the cadence ‘“Because X, Y” where the relationship between X and Y is questionable at best.’ You may as well say that the latest Star Trek movie establishes the cadence of Captain Kirk saving the day.

  15. The Crimson Avenger says:

    I think everyone here is overthinking this. It’s far more likely that there was marketing money in a budget somewhere that had to get spent, lest the line item was zero’d out in the next cycle. There was no reason for the ads other than to spend ad money.

  16. Diana Senechal says:

    Tracy, advertising is all about establishing cadence, images, slogans, etc. to make them more familiar later.

    I didn’t say they were alone in doing this or that their approach was in any way original. It’s advertising.

    One could say they’re just promoting the current leadership. But how do they do it? With a pattern. Why use such a pattern, if not to establish a cadence? (I don’t mean they invented the cadence.)

  17. If the system was working like it was supposed to, it would make sense. For example, the U.S. Post Office advertises, because it competes with FedEx, UPS, and other similar companies for customers.

    Similarly, our K-12 school system as it was originally built was to mostly be private schools, with public schools coming in to pick up the slack and/or fill in gaps in some areas. As such, the public school would need to advertise for ‘customers’ just like the private schools would…