Significant spending on marketing has been a natural consequence of educational privatization and school choice. Administrators of charter management organizations (CMOs), in particular, depend heavily on online marketing as well as social media, direct mail campaigns, and branding initiatives to attract students to their schools. In turn, neighborhood public schools have had to reallocate resources to respond with publicity efforts of their own to attract and retain students.  

In “Perceptions of Prestige: A Comparative Analysis of School Online Media Marketing,” Sarah Butler Jessen and Catherine DiMartino provide a detailed assessment of the marketing tools increasingly employed by CMOs to win over philanthropists and politicians as well as parents. Jessen, visiting assistant professor of education at Bowdoin College, and DiMartino, assistant professor of education at Hofstra University, compare the marketing strategies of 50 schools—CMO-run schools, independent charter schools, public magnet schools, neighborhood public schools, and private schools—across the Boston and New York metro areas. With data on Web sites (their interactivity, image resolution, coherence, and language), Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels, the authors document substantial differences in how types of schools market themselves. At one end of the spectrum, CMO-run schools score 76 percent on the authors’ marketing rubric; at the other, neighborhood public schools score 24 percent.

With a thorough literature review of research into marketing and branding, an innovative theoretical framework, and several tables of telling data, this paper at once elucidates a central outcome of educational privatization and school choice and raises anew fundamental questions about the perception and reality of public education.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE
June 29, 2016