In New Orleans, where charter schools have become the norm and compete against each other for student enrollment, school leaders’ perceptions of, and reactions to, growing competition differed based on where they were in the marketplace hierarchy, a new study finds.
Researcher Huriya Jabbar based her study on 72 interviews with district and charter school officials and principals from 30 randomly selected New Orleans schools. She found that leaders of high-status schools—those which have high student achievement and are often viewed as competition by other schools—were more likely to respond to competition by developing niche programs, instituting operational changes like increased fundraising or expansion into pre-K education, and using more selective or exclusionary practices regarding enrollment.
Leaders of lower-status schools, which were facing more pressure to compete, employed more strategies to promote their schools, including improving academics, providing a wider range of extracurricular activities, and gathering marketing information.
Ms. Jabbar said the most important finding of the study was that two-thirds of the leaders reported not implementing substantial academic or operational changes aimed at improving their schools in order to increase their competitiveness. Rather, 25 of the 30 schools promoted existing programs and assets through marketing ventures such as advertising or recruitment fairs. The study determined that changes such as marketing to and screening students were inefficient and unfair.
New Orleans served as an ideal site to conduct the study, according to Ms. Jabbar. In 2005, as the school system was rebuilt following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the majority of New Orleans schools came under the control of the Recovery School District, a state-run effort to improve underperforming schools. Since then, all RSD-operated schools have become charter schools.
Charter school proponents, however, called the study outdated, noting that changes to the city’s school application process have made it harder for school leaders to “game” the system.
Ms. Jabbar is an assistant professor of educational policy at the University of Texas at Austin and a research associate at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, the Tulane University-based research organization that produced the report. The study is the second in a series of reports on New Orleans schools from the alliance.
A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 2015 edition of Education Week as Charters Led to Marketing Push in New Orleans