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beating the competition

Getting Serious About Beating the Competition: Time for Schools

The debate over school choice barrels on. Proponents view the movement as a hard-nosed tactic to spur improvement in under-performing schools. Critics say stiffer competition threatens to make bad institutions worse.

No matter on which side you stand, one consequence has become increasingly difficult to ignore: Fewer enrollments often mean leaner budgets for schools.

That’s what happening in Los Angeles, where education leaders recently green-lit an aggressive marketing campaign to keep students and families from defecting to newer, seemingly more attractive charter schools and other alternatives.

Local radio station 89.33 KPCC reported that charter school enrollments in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have more than tripled since 2006.

“We are still in a very precarious situation,” school board member Steve Zimmer told a reporter for the radio station after the vote. “How do we attract families who have increasing choices?”

LAUSD is not alone. School leaders from Wisconsin to Nevada have been forced to adjust to an environment where competition can siphon students, and the state and federal dollars that follow them, away from public schools—this, at a time when many education budgets are already scraping bottom.

In Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval recently signed a bill that would allow some 450,000 students enrolled in the state’s public schools to attend private schools with vouchers paid for by the state.

Back in California, KPCC reports that LAUSD loses upwards of $10,000 every time a student leaves the school system for an alternative option.

Board Member George McKenna says the new effort, which includes print brochures, radio and television advertising and other marketing tactics, is intended to establish a level of comfort and familiarity between parents and families and the school system.

“If they know you and trust you, they’ll come to your school,” McKenna tells KPCC of parents and families. He says competition is not something many in the public school system have had to contend with before.

Lead by example
Marketing is one way to attract parents and students to your schools. But when it comes to building trust, brochures and advertisements go only so far. Increasingly, educators find they need to lead by example.

One such idea is to foster better, more open conversations with parents and other members of the school community. Long considered masters of outbound messaging, schools are increasingly focused on the inbound, including fielding questions from community members and responding to stakeholder concerns that crop up online and on social media.

Online surveys help school leaders better understand the needs of stakeholders and new communications tools, including mobile and online apps, fuel smarter decisions based on real feedback from parents, teachers, staff, students and others.

Where these tools don’t exist, some frustrated stakeholders have taken to creating their own measures. At Whitney High School in Rocklin Unified School District near Sacramento, one mother developed a mobile app to improve communications between educators and parents.

Money is tight. And it’s only going to get worse if more students decide to enroll elsewhere. Don’t wait for your parents—or worse, your competition—to develop a better solution. Start thinking about what you can do now.