Monday, December 10, 2012

Three Takes on Branding

There's been a lot of talk lately related to issues of branding and marketing K–12 education, though the term is used differently in different contexts and readers or listeners are expected to take away entirely different messages.

At a recent City Club of Chicago lunch (and elsewhere) Karen Lewis decried the ed reform policies  championed by Arne Duncan and Rahm Emanuel and supported by large funders such as the Gates Foundation as empty marketing schemes that hide the truth, hinder effective and fair solutions, and cede control to privateers. (Here's a summary, though its tone implies a great deal less warmth of reception than I witnessed, and here's some paraphrasing along with a clip to the video of her speech.  I also live-tweeted the speech here.)

Meanwhile, some folks writing for Co.Exist (I can't figure out the writers' relationship to the site; they're not listed as contributors or editors) argue that K–12 education would actually benefit from some re-branding. Their argument is that education should be far, far higher on the American public's list of Interesting and Urgent Things To Engage With. "If we could devise a provocative and ongoing message--" they say-- "a relevant pitch that appeals to people's immediate lives and illuminates the possibilities rather than the problems in education--we could unify businesses, teachers, communities, and political leaders around a single goal."

And I recently heard a piece on Marketplace about the dramatic difference a Cincinatti school's renovation has made in student engagement. Certainly, much of that is related to physical comfort, access to conditions needed to focus, and resources such as new science-lab equipment. But there is also an enormous psychological element. Says a Kansas State prof in the story, "A poor building imparts a poor attitude, and it has an effect on learning;" a school building with well-lighted hallways,  clean floors, upgraded plumbing, and temperature control is a place "where children feel valued, where teachers feel valued, and where the environment and the surroundings don't get in the way." That's a pretty important sort of branding.

By the way, Marketplace has done several heart-warming pieces on this particular school's  smart, caring, and systematic approach to revitalizing itself and its community, which you can access here. I am very curious about the renovation's funding sources. There are so many school buildings in terrible physical shape! I emailed Marketplace with the question but have not heard back.

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