School Marketing Expert Worries About Lack Of Regulation In Growing Industry

Dec 10, 2018

A lawsuit against Indianapolis Public Schools claims the district used deceptive marketing about a university partnership to attract a family to one of its schools. At least one expert says without any marketing regulations, misinformation and segregation in schools could continue.

It makes sense to see more of Indiana’s schools market themselves; school choice means more competition, and in this state, funding follows the student.

Education policy expert and Indiana University professor Chris Lubienski, who studies school marketing and competition, says more school autonomy in a field of increasing competition and choice means more pressure on parents to find and understand the right information.

“It does put more of a burden on parents, not just to get information on schools, but to make sure that information is valid and trustworthy,” he says.

He says more schools are using brand identity to engage families too, and don’t necessarily focus on academics.

School marketing is seen as a good thing by some, particularly proponents of school choice, because it forces schools to focus on what they do best and where they need to improve.

But Lubienski also worries the current climate could lead to more school dollars going to promotional costs instead of the classroom, and schools learning how to publicize a specific image of themselves rather than accurately portraying what’s going on inside.

“It creates conditions where there is incentive for schools to be misleading or more focused on image than in terms of improving their practices,” he says.

Lubienski says one possible solution to prevent issues like these from coming up or reoccurring, would be uniform marketing rules or an outside authority on school information. But, Lubienski says he’s skeptical the idea would gain any real traction in the current education climate.