Making “Public” a Dirty Word?

For decades, America used to crow about its public school system.  We were the model that other nations aspired to.  From kindergarten through college graduation, public schools were meant to stand as a symbol of equal education and opportunity.

Today, however, the criticism over public schools is growing louder and louder.  The success of charter schools has further highlighted the flaws in some urban districts.  Vouchers are now allowing parents to opt out of the public school system in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington DC, and throughout Florida.  And NCLB has more parents and communities scrutinizing those public schools that fail to make AYP and fail to provide a high-quality, effective education to all.

So it is no surprise it has come to this.  According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “public” is now a dirty word when talking about our local schools.  Pittsburgh Public Schools is dropping “public” from its name, in an attempt to “brighten and strengthen” its image.

Eduflack is all for school districts doing what is necessary, rhetorically, to improve their image.  Schools need to instill confidence in the teachers, students, and families that are part of the school community.  We need to believe in the educators and leaders who head our schools.  And we need to trust our children are getting the high-quality, effective education that our taxpayer dollars are funding.

Does anyone believe that dropping the “public” improves the quality of education, or even the perception of the quality of education?  Does the franchise-ination of school names, as Pittsburgh Public Schools proposes, really do anything to improve the schools?  Of course not.

Yes, schools should simplify the message and making sure their goals are clear to every and any stakeholder audience.  That’s the only way you can successfully communicate reform.  And I’m all for Pittsburgh’s new tagline — “Excellence for all.”  Every student, including those in Pittsburgh, deserve excellent education and should be expected to demonstrate proficiency and excellence.

But you need more than a new tagline to improve your schools.  Such rhetorical devices are useless if one is not adopting the reforms and improvements necessary to deliver on the promise.  If Pittsburgh is promising excellence for all, it better be coming to the classroom with more than a tagline, a new logo, and a “streamlined” name for the school district.  It better bring the instruction, the interventions, the measurement, and methods for improvement that are needed for any school district to truly excel.

Without such content commitments, this is nothing more than empty rhetoric.  I appreciate that Pittsburgh officials believe that “public” has negative connotations with some.  Based on the performance of many public schools over the past decade, it should.  The most effective way to reverse that image is not with a new coat of paint or a new neon sign, though.  The most effective way to communicate “public” schools in a positive way is to show real, lasting, meaningful student achievement.  For our nation to succeed, we need to be proud of our public schools, not ashamed of them.

One thought on “Making “Public” a Dirty Word?

  1. Are they doing anything else? I can see a name change, as part of an overal effort at change. But if that’s all it is. . .

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