Public schools are going to lose out to slick marketing by independents
Trust me when I say this ain't no plug for independent schools. Rather, it's a wake up call for the public education system to take a hard look at how it can modernize itself.
The above poster ran as a full page in 24 Hours newspaper last week, and as well as in other publications. Several papers run ads with scrubbed looking children in blazers sporting plaid ties and skirts. That same look worked for Benetton ads for years, also the Gap, and now schools.
Each year this national road show to promote private schools makes its way to Vancouver. To register is free, and I plan to attend this year not as a prospective customer but as someone who wants to know how to market our schools better. I've invited others, including school trustees and the Minister of Education, to make their way to the Expo on Sunday, November 28th. I would also recommend any member of our board of education and the school superintendent to do the same.
This is not to take away from the private education system. For many students and their parents, it fits with their means, their educational needs, and in many cases their social status.
The vast majority of children still are educated in our public system. It's a system under strain largely, in my opinion, from its inability to respond in a timely manner to our evolving expectations. On yesterday morning's Bill Good Show a caller spoke about how after a bad experience years ago with the elementary school in his Eastside neighbourhood, he made a decision to continue to drive his three kids to west side schools.
What happened to cause this is not clear to me, but it's important to ask if our schools are simply not equipped to respond to the concerns of people like this morning's caller. I do know that walking to your local school is infinitely healthier than driving across town. It also helps to develop a sense of place for the family and community, which is eroded when your only connection to a neighbourhood is to drive in and out of it daily. And I don't think this is an exaggeration.
In Wednesday's Vancouver Courier schools columnist Naoibh O'Connor has written a good piece which raises the question of whether schools need to market themselves better. Specifically, she cites comments I made at public meeting about a school closing in my neighbourhood:
Last month, Citycaucus blogger and NPA-backer Mike Klassen spoke at the McBride annex meeting--he's the parent of a former McBride annex student. Klassen told trustees he spent years trying to boost its enrolment through online marketing and making the grounds more attractive, to no avail. He blamed the VSB for failing to promote the public system as effectively as private schools promote their programs. Klassen has a point. I called the VSB to ask if elementary schools host open houses prior to kindergarten registration so families can check out prospective schools. I'm told open houses aren't mandated by the district--it's up to individual principals.
She mildly counters my argument with...
It's debatable how much impact marketing would have since public schools can't offer what many private schools provide: religious-centred education, extra support for special needs students or greater access to costly technology and top universities available through the priciest private schools.
I believe the latter to only be partly true. Yes, private facilities provide many perks, but I think most parents are looking for academic excellence, followed by opportunities for athletics, and only then the social benefits of tony school settings. There's not much reason why the public system cannot really deliver first class service on the first two priorities regardless of the locale.
O'Connor also mentions the Our Kids Expo (poster above). She quotes a press release from the organization that states:
"The current state of the public system may frighten some parents but we're confident there is another option for them. And we're here to help them find it."
Who can blame them for preying upon the concerns of parents, who've listened to the Vancouver School Board Chair and her fellow trustees run down the system for the past two years?
Another Courier columnist thinks he knows what ails the public education system – the teacher's union. Mark Hasiuk has a very hard-hitting story title Teachers’ union secrecy can’t conceal sad truth that is a recommended read. In trying to find out stats on how many teachers have been disciplined or fired in the past year, he hits a brick wall put up by both the VSB and the BCTF.
Whether problem educators are a factor in the problems our public education system faces is unclear. But the fact we cannot find out how potential problems are being dealt with is not at all reassuring, and this, too, is a way our education system must evolve.
Have no doubt that if any private institution did this, it's unlikely that school would remain in business for long.
Our school system needs to remain adaptable and should learn from its private competitors. I hope I'll see some representatives of the VSB at the Bayshore on the 28th.
Update on our previous story about the $25,000 Vision election poll done by Ipsos-Reid for the school board. It turns out that as a result of our CityCaucus.com story the board has pulled the question from the poll about the Board's performance. The comments by Trustee Mike Lombardi where he stated "we wanted to leave the questions up to the professionals at Ipsos-Reid" left the company feeling like they were holding the bag on that $25,000 Vision boondoggle, hence the change.
The poll is still a BIG waste of scarce tax dollars, no matter how many questions you tweak.
- post by Mike