Best Practices in Implementing For-Profit Initiatives in Public Education

Many K-12 schools have sought different means for increasing accountability and performance. Similarly, many public state education institutions have a need to boost enrollments. To address these issues both types of institutions are looking to the for-profit sector.

K-12 education In New York City, Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein have adopted a structure that mimics the “corporation” structure. According to the chancellor and the mayor, these measures have been taken because academic performance benchmarks are not being met.

On December 21st, 2006 Joel Klien nominated Chris Cerf as deputy chancellor. Cerf is the former president of Edison Schools, Inc., the world’s largest operator of for-profit schools.

As public schools seek to boost accountability, transparency, and academic results in terms of test scores and other academic benchmarks, these institutions are seeking a more dynamic organizational structure. By adjusting the public school system to more closely mimic the corporation structure, Klein and Bloomberg hope to make teachers, principals, and superintendents more accountable for the academic “return” or test scores that individual classes, schools, and districts produce.

Is this ethical? Is it okay to hold public educational institutions responsible for the results that they produce in the same way that an auto-maker or widget manufacturer would? Aren’t there other contributing factors to the results that schools produce that are beyond the control of the teachers and administrators? Isn’t it true that school districts that have more money produce better academic “return”? In terms of K-12 public school organizational structure, the argument is muddled at best.

The conversation changes greatly when it is shifted to higher education. Not-for-profit higher education institutions can be “efficient” in different ways than public K-12 schools–namely in that colleges and universities can attract and retain new students in a way that K-12 schools can’t. In higher ed., the performance of a given institution isn’t just measured by test-scores, but other factors as well. These factors can include name recognition, number of enrolled students, the success that graduating students have in finding jobs, and even the profitability of the given institution. For the most part, public institutions are not as concerned with profitability as their private counterparts: this doesn’t mean that these schools don’t care or aren’t held accountable–public higher education institutions can always be more “efficient” in generating revenue via student growth.

Many not-for-profit schools have tried different methods for generating new student growth. For the most part, not-for-profit schools seem to be utilizing more traditional marketing strategies to make potential students aware of the courses that are offered at their institutions. Increasingly, in higher education just as in other industries, marketers are pushing for accountability in terms of the money they spend on advertising and marketing.

Because the online and direct TV media channels are so well suited to measuring Return on Investment (ROI), it makes sense for higher education institutions to utilize these media channels when trying to attract new students. By utilizing a transparent marketing process–transparent insomuch as it is clear which marketing initiatives yield new students and which don’t–education institution can determine exactly how much money needs to be invested in order to attract and retain new students.

The fact that not-for-profit education institutions market to new students is nothing new, but increasing attention is being paid to the aggressiveness that public higher education institutions employ when marketing to new students.

There are many similarities in the way that K-12 and Higher Education institutions are adapting their organizational structures–both are pushing for more accountability. People are demanding “results” from K-12 schools, just as higher education institutions are demanding to know which marketing initiatives are working and which aren’t.

The fact that public education institutions are looking to the for-profit sector for ideas should not alarm us though–Harvard was founded in 1636, well before the United States declared independence from the UK.

The issue isn’t if public K-12 and higher education institutions should look to the for-profits for ideas, though, the issue is how. How should public schools implement the tools and tactics that the for-profits use? Want to learn more about Enrollment Management? Click here to sign up for the Innovation Ads Enrollment Management Whitepaper

-Sources Ehrenberg, Ronald G; Governing Academia; Cornell University Press; Ithaca and London 2004 Herszenhron, David M.; Overhaul of Schools Would Let Teachers Rate Principals; The New York Times; January 19, 2007 Herszenhron, David M.; School Entrepreneur Named To Be a Deputy Chancellor; The New York Times; December 22, 2006