How Schools ‘Manage’ Parents

Published October 1, 2001

Why is it that parents who give a mediocre grade to public schools in general almost invariably have a favorable impression of the performance of their local public school?

A new book by Temple University history professor William Cutler provides an answer: Organized public relations programs have been an essential part of urban school systems since the 1920s, with public school educators working systematically to influence public opinion about their schools. Teacher colleges offer courses in educational publicity and strategies for building local support.

“Most school systems seek to build a favorable public impression of their performance through a steady barrage of announcements, events, and media releases,” notes a commentary on Cutler’s book posted under “Briefings” on the Education Consumers ClearingHouse Web site at

“Given that what the public knows about education mostly comes from the schools themselves, it is little wonder that most parents and communities retain a favorable impression of their local schools despite objective assessments to the contrary,” the review concludes.

Cutler’s book, Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education, uses meeting minutes, reports, published articles, and other materials to trace the relationship between parents and schools from 1840 until the 1990s. The educators in the public schools emerge as the victors in this struggle, even though most parents still retain the notion that they control the public schools through their local elected school board.

While educators and reformers seek the support of parents for the schools, Cutler points out they often have viewed parents as a bad influence on their children and “agreed that many parents could no more be trusted with their children’s health than with their education.”

“Educators may say they are working to bring about the kind of schooling that the public demands, but historically they have made a concerted effort to impose their views on the public,” notes East Tennessee State University education professor J. E. Stone, who heads the Education Consumers ClearingHouse. “Reforms do not work because the education community believes its role is to do what it conceives as in the best interests of children regardless of what parents and taxpayers may want.”

For more information . . .

William W. Cutler III, Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education. 290 pages, $25.00 0-226-13216-1 (University of Chicago Press, 2000). The book is available for just $17.50 through at