The Stories You Aren’t Supposed to Tell

In the era of school choice, students have become a commodity.

In addition to educational credentials, a master’s degree in marketing might be considered a valuable investment for school leaders. Telling your school’s story is a necessity in a free market educational system, because where parents (and students) choose to go — so goes the money and staffing.

That isn’t necessarily unfair, or a bad thing. I think parents should have choices when it comes to their child’s education, but it also means that there must be a plan to take care of the children who don’t have advocates, or those whose circumstances don’t allow them to change schools — those without a real choice.

This “business/choice” model of education creates a challenge for struggling schools that are trying to improve. It implies that the solution is to move students to “better” schools instead of attempting to address concerns in local educational communities.

As the principal at low SES school in a relatively affluent district, I struggle with marketing. What success stories am I “allowed” to tell? I have MANY great things to talk about, but it is a challenge to discuss some of our most meaningful accomplishments without generating negative perceptions. A few examples:

  • The student whose attendance rate has increased dramatically because of the vigilance of teachers and a caring truancy officer (see Finding Balance: Expectations and Empathy)
  • An 8th grader who was assessed at a third grade mathematics level, but through targeted intervention has improved two grade levels in half a year
  • Students who voluntarily show up for school an hour early, on a daily basis, to get help with their reading skills
  • The student who had thirteen disciplinary referrals in a single year, but has none this year — again, because of personal connections and caring adults

Don’t get me wrong, we will market caring adults. We will talk about student growth. We will discuss our intervention programs. But in the world of school choice, it is difficult to tell the whole story because while each of those examples is something to celebrate, the perception is that in “first rate” schools, those issues should never exist.

Or…maybe we need to heed the advice of Emerson. Do what we can to tell a positive story, but allow our actions to be our most effective marketing tool.

Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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