Schools pay to advertise

Tired of losing students to charter schools, private schools and suburban alternatives, urban districts are hiring marketing consultants and running ads, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Administrators say they are working hard to improve academics — but it can’t hurt to burnish their image as well. 

The are recording radio ads, filming TV infomercials and buying address lists for direct-mail campaigns. Other efforts, by both districts and individual schools, call for catering Mexican dinners for potential students, making sales pitches at churches and hiring branding experts to redesign logos.

“Schools are really getting that they can’t just expect students to show up any more,” said Lisa Relou, who directs marketing efforts for the Denver Public Schools. “They have to go out and recruit.”

Some charter schools also run ads to recruit students — including boasting of higher graduation rates than district-run schools. But KIPP decided that recruitment ads make a school sound “desperate.”
Advertising can backfire if the public decides a district is wasting money on image that could have been spent on substance.
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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    This is so sad, and a sign of the times.

  2. I don’t see any problem with marketing. I think it focuses you on what works at your school. No, KIPP didn’t use ads to try to sway me… They had a class of 8th graders write me. It was creepy.

  3. Kimmy said:

    “I don’t see any problem with marketing. I think it focuses you on what works at your school.”

    What works should refer to education, not to the best way to increase your enrollment. And that’s the heart of the problem – schools are now about everything except education.

  4. Doug Sundseth says:

    My local school district has been advertising for several years. Frankly, I considered the advertising to be a strongly positive sign.

    Said school district has a long history of execrable schools. Recently, charter schools have been poaching their students, since charter schools try to teach and often succeed.

    The advertising, based on the supposed advantages/differences of each of the schools in the district, at least indicates that the district has finally seen that there is a problem, even if they’re a bit hazy about how to fix it. This, as sad as it might seem, is a major step forward.

  5. The district response always seems to be, in order:

    1. Use political muscle to prevent competition
    2. Advertise
    3. Change schools by adding new programs, like languages or sciences or full-day K

    Does anyone know of a district that’s been more substantive in responding to competition? Along the lines of:

    1. We are upgrading our teaching staff by….
    2. We are tightening up school culture by….
    3. We are giving your kid more personal attention by….
    4. We will make it easy for you, the parent, to have easy phone access to teachers by…..

  6. If the school districts were actually doing a decent job, there’d be no need to advertise since the word-of-mouth would be positive rather than negative…

  7. More substantive responses? Heck, they’re just starting to figuring out that they’re supposed to educate kids not please themselves. That’s a tough, and unwelcomed, transition to have to negotiate.

    Of course that’ll mean having to do without the endless stream of edu-crap like whole word or whatever it’s being called this week as a means of concealing the fact that it’s a dismal and uniform failure. Yup, no more exciting new buzzwords with which to lead the rubes, err, parents to the erroneous conclusion that their kids are learning anything.

    It’s a brand, new world filled with scary concepts like accountability and responsibility.

    Of course the irony of the longest-standing socialist institution in the U.S., driven by the fear of survival, stooping to the use of advertising, one of the feature of capitalism most roundly detested by socialists, is pretty amusing as well.

  8. I don’t like the idea of taxpayer-supported institutions spending money on advertising. Furthermore, I am against the whole idea of public sector unions at any level of government. There is a fundamental conflict of interest when government employees pressure government for more benefits. The states of California and New York illustrate that point.

  9. It beats “We don’t care, we don’t have to.”