Marketing of Public Education Is on the Rise
Public districts are actively competing with charters and private schools
At the Upper Darby School District in Pennsylvania, people are used to seeing marketing materials like billboards and slick brochures that charter and private schools use to increase enrollment. What’s relatively new is the the public school district getting into the battle. This suburban Philadelphia district has launched a marketing campaign to attract both students and staff. “We know our story, and we want to be able to tell our story, and I think there is a public perception of public education that doesn’t reflect Upper Darby in particular,” says Dana Spino, director of district media relations.
A school district in Indiana had an aggressive marketing campaign in place to increase enrollment at schools and get the word out about what the school corporation has to offer. However, questions about return on investment and the perception that the school corporation is poaching students from nearby areas prompted the school board to reduce the amount of spending on the campaign from $190,000 to just over $85,000.
In his book, “Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality,” Jack Schneider makes the argument that the main difference between public schools and private or charter schools isn’t the test scores, it’s marketing. He takes a deep dive into performance at all types of schools, especially the number of kids graduating and continuing on to college.
Robust enrollment in charter and private schools plus the increased pressure on enrollment numbers on public school funding is forcing a change in attitude about marketing in some districts. Many public school administrators have a hard time getting over the perception that spending money to promote a public institution is distasteful and a waste of money, but more and more are realizing marketing has to be part of the overall plan for healthy growth in a district.
“If we just go out and spend money aggressively on heavy marketing, we might receive a lot of criticism for that,” says Fred Brent, Superintendent of Georgetown ISD in Texas. “But a charter school can do that. That's their business model, and they're a for-profit business. Make no mistake about it. They're making money.
“School boards need to say to themselves, ‘This is a competition now; the game has changed. We must start marketing ourselves.’ And teachers need to brag about themselves. Great things are happening in our schools and teachers have been conditioned to not tell their story, to not talk about the great things their kids are doing.”
Jim Reams is a marketing, communications and strategy consultant with over 25 years experience in both in-house and agency settings. He has specialized in EdTech and the education industry since 2009. He has a BA degree from the University of North Texas.