THE BLOG
07/22/2014 02:39 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2014

On Charter Schools, Say This, Not That

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A new guide to charter messaging urges advocates to steer clear of corporate speak

Once every four minutes, a passionate charter advocate accidentally lapses into the kind of clinical corporate speak that can leave listeners cold -- not to mention kids out of the equation. Would that there were a way to remedy this problem once and for all... Great news, reader. Problem solved! A handy new guide to charter school messaging ensures that never again will you accidentally say *market share* when you mean *student share* or *businesses* when what you really meant to mean all along was *schools.*

Say this, not this
The Charter School Messaging Notebook was prepared for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools by the Glover Park Group, which specializes in *creative, disruptive thinking, deep insights and senior counsel* (Shout out to my secret education reform friend for sharing...) And the results are crystal clear, reader. *When we use words that work, people like what they hear -- and that means more support for charter schools.* In other words, say this, not this...

Say: Charter school community. Not: Charter school sector
Say: Enrollment form. Not: Application
Say: Network. Not: CMO/EMO; management organization
Say: Schools. Not: Businesses/companies
Say: Teachers or school leaders. Not: Staff
Say: Responsive to student needs. Not: Experiments
Say: Student share. Not: Market share
Say: Schools or school leaders. Not: Operators
Say: Accountability. Not: Reform
Say: Innovation. Not: Competition or experimentation
Say: Flexibility. Not: Autonomy
Say: Families. Not: Consumers

Know when to change the subject
Well that was easy. But just to be safe, you'll want to print and laminate this essential *Say This/Not This* chart with you as a constant reminder never to say *experiments* when what your really meant, of course, was *responsive to student needs.* Which means that our work is done -- or it would be -- *but there are still other concerns...*

The number one concern that voters have about charters is the impact on neighborhood schools. People can explain, without any prompting, that having a better school come to the community will make people want to leave their district school. And they worry about what will happen to the teachers and the students who stay in the district school. Even though they want more charters, they worry about district schools. So, we must be sensitive to this concern. The best response we have to this concern at this time is to stay focused on students.

In other words, change the subject...

Let's get negative
Unprompted concern for the future of their soon-to-be shuttered neighborhood schools isn't the only way that parents and voters are *off message.* The charter message testers also found that some of their fave charter cheers are turning off the very people that they must turn on.

Perceived Attacks on or Negative Comparisons to District Schools
Although many feel that our traditional public schools are failing, most still care strongly for these schools and would like to see them fixed, rather than done away with.
Note: this does not mean that we shouldn't use real data or statistics about district schools to illustrate the need for high-quality public school options. But we shouldn't simply bash the whole system.

Closing Schools
The public (both regular voters/parents and opinion leaders/policymakers) has a strong attachment to the idea of traditional public schools; therefore many are against closing even the worst performing public schools.
These views have consequences for how we describe charter school accountability. We often highlight as a positive feature of charter schools that they can be closed down if they don't perform well. This isn't a good message for us with the general public. People want to see schools fixed, not closed.
Note: this doesn't mean we should change our approach to closing schools, it just means it isn't something we should highlight in our public messaging.

Partnerships with Businesses and Foundations That Provide Additional Funding
These arrangements are viewed through a cynical lens because many assume it opens a door for donors to push their particular agenda in the schools.
Note: Again, this doesn't mean charters shouldn't accept charitable contributions, it just isn't something we should highlight in our public messaging.

References or Comparisons to *White, Higher-Income Students.*
This information can provide a very important proof point for charter success to education reformers and policymakers.
But broader audiences (voters and parents) particularly in less urban areas are turned off by the comparison and quick to push back.

Change we can believe in
Enough with the negativity, already. Surely there are some positive messages regarding the kinds of changes that parents in particular would like to see in what's left of their public schools. Actually, there are. *Encouraging greater parental involvement* was the top choice, followed by *reducing class size.* As for the least popular options? Only 29% of those polled believed that *limiting the power of teachers unions* held the key to improving public schools. But that was still more popular than the least popular choice: *creating new PUBLIC schools so parents have more choices.* Did I mention that charter schools are public schools?

This post appeared originally on EduShyster.com.