Denver parents shouldn’t be surprised to find a public school marketing director at their door, hoping to sell their school as the right choice for their children’s education.
Denver offers parents school choice, so schools have to compete for students. And that means creating unique products and marketing them to potential customers.
“Parents won’t just walk their kids out the front door to the only school across the street,” said Rachel Bruce, admissions and outreach manager for Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, a magnet school in the Denver Public Schools District. “Now parents have the option to choose what is best for their student.”
Denver now has more magnet and charter schools than any other Colorado district.
Less than half of Denver public school students perform proficiently in reading, writing, math, and science, according to the 2009 results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) standardized tests. But magnet schools such as MLK Jr. Early College and public charter schools including the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) are fostering much greater student achievement.
Based on the combination of proficiency and student growth in CSAP scores, DSST has the highest-performing middle and high schools in Denver.
Failure Not an Option
Despite these successes, many schools are concerned about achieving enrollment goals, but unlike a competitive market in which low-performing schools would be forced to close, the public schools are able to survive with continued state funding.
“If the system is to be truly competitive and students are to be treated like customers whose educational needs must be satisfied, the district has to start closing low-performing schools,” said Amy Slothower, executive director of Get Smart Schools, a Denver nonprofit organization.
To ensure sufficient enrollment while guaranteeing school choice, district officials are hiring people to hit the streets and implement marketing programs.
“The idea of having marketing directors in the arena is only natural,” Slothower said, “so we are teaching schools how to do it well and also avoid some problems that have come up with competition.”
Get Smart Schools drafted a code of ethics for public school districts to ensure all marketing is truthful, not misleading, and backed with evidence.
Even though each Colorado student brings his or her school about $8,000 in state and federal money, some officials don’t view school choice as competition but instead “a joint effort,” said Bill Kurtz, DSST’s head of school. “We should be focused on getting the highest return on investment for the students and not worry about where the money goes,” he said.
Bruce agrees students and parents should have choices, “but being affiliated with the district is important,” she said. “Instead of having a curriculum from who knows where, we have the benefit of belonging to the school district where there are smart people designing curricula.”
Kelly Gorton ([email protected]) writes from California.
For more information …
Colorado Student Assessment Program, 2009 results: http://testing.dpsk12.org/public/CSAP%20Reports/09_District%20by%20Contentarea_3yrs.pdf