Jacob Bell at Ed Week’s Inside School Research blog reported that Huriya Jabbar, an assistant professor at University of Texas-Austin and research associate at Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, recently released findings of a study she did which examined the choices school leaders in New Orleans make in a competitive school choice model (bolded emphasis mine):
The study’s findings show that leaders of high-status schools—those which have high student achievement and are often viewed as competition by other schools—were more likely to respond to competition by developing niche programs, instituting operational changes like increased fundraising or expansion into pre-K education, and using more selective or exclusionary practices regarding enrollment.
Leaders of lower-status schools were under more pressure to compete, and employed a larger number of strategies to promote their schools. These strategies included improving academics, providing a wider range of extracurricular activities, gathering information, and increasing marketing.
The most important finding of the study, according to Jabbar, was that two-thirds of the leaders reported not implementing substantial academic or operational strategies aimed at improving their schools in order to increase their competitiveness.
Rather, 25 of the 30 schools promoted existing programs and assets through marketing ventures such as advertising or recruitment fairs. The study determined that changes such as marketing to and screening students were inefficient and unfair.
Yes, the changes such as marketing to and screening of students are unfair (and disturbing), that is, giving unfair advantages to some schools over others by excluding certain students, but that’s not the most troubling aspect of this. The most troubling aspect is that according to this study, competition seems to be spurring competition, not improvements in the enterprise of teaching and learning. I was under the impression that the school choice-based/school-system-as-a-marketplace model was meant to make it so that schools win at offering great education, with competition as a means to that end, and not that they would win, as in they sold their product to the most students because they focused their efforts on marketing.
Do we want schools that are great at educating or great at marketing?