Public schools face a lot of challenges and many of them have been plaguing public schools since the 20th Century. However, the newest challenge to public district school is unique to the 21st Century: student retention. In the 20th Century, competition for public districts schools was limited to wealthy private schools and trade schools. Today, district schools have new competition from charter schools and private online schools. In fact, all of these schools are now marketing aggressively for each student.
What is a public district school to do about all of this increased competition? It's easy. Aggressively market their own schools and take the competition seriously.
In an era of shrinking budgets, many public school districts are taking a hard look at how to retain and attract new students. These school districts have little choice, budgets are shrinking and if their student population continues to shrink, more dire cuts are on the way. Though student retention is a problem for big urban public schools it is quickly becoming a problem for suburban and rural public schools, too.
What can a public school do now to market and retain students? Three things:
1. Get loud about what your public school offers. Many take for granted all of the choices and opportunities public district schools offer. Many of these are extracurricular and other opportunities that help develop the "whole child " and not just teach to a test. Many of these opportunities are not offered by any of the competition to public schools. Public schools must shout from the rooftops about what they offer and not take it for granted that this is widely known or expected.
2. Celebrate success and be honest about your shortcomings. Public schools have a habit of not celebrating when they have great success, and this needs to stop. Public schools can no longer afford the luxury of putting their heads down. Education reform was built to create a competitive atmosphere around education and public schools now must market themselves just like entities do in the private sector. Public school superintendents and principals must get into the habit of advertising their successes to their community. Public district schools must write op-eds, blogs, videos and newsletters to explain their success to the public. There has never been wide-spread public outrage over a public school district celebrating its success. The same is true with admitting to their shortcomings, people appreciate honesty from their public entities.
3. Get local. Public district schools no longer get the benefit of the doubt on anything anymore. They are under attack from all directions. From liberals to conservatives, from parent to non-parents, public schools are often under a microscope and viewed negatively. How many success stories about public schools have you seen in the last year? The reality is that there are many successful things happening - but these stories are not being told or heard. This is why public schools must engage at the local level. By building on the community ownership of their public school and reinforcing their good work at the local level, public schools can combat student retention issues. Public schools must focus their fight at the local level where they have the strongest bonds.
Student retention is a serious issue for public schools. There is little appetite to increase funding for public schools in either Washington or in many state capitols. This, coupled with the fact there are now alternative education options that are aggressively siphoning away public funding from them, is a cause for alarm for public schools. These problems for public schools are not going away. That is why public schools must start competing aggressively to retain students and to compete in a marketplace that offers more choice than ever before.