How to Compete With Charters
The St. Louis Public Schools are faced with a problem: how to compete with the new KIPP Inspire Academy. The superintendent’s strategy is to spend $1 million on marketing, in hopes that new logos and brochures will bring students back to the district.
I think he’ll learn that the only way to compete with KIPP is to beat it at its own game. Parents are impressed by KIPP education, not by promotional materials. The pictures in the article show the KIPP principal advertising the school by just walking around with a signup sheet and talking to people — hardly cutting-edge marketing. (I know, KIPP puts out advertisements, too, but its work canvassing neighborhoods is what really gets parents involved.)
The fact that advertisements alone won’t work doesn’t mean the district’s hands are tied. There’s nothing to prevent SLPS from starting its own KIPP-style school, accepting fourth graders. It could offer long hours, accelerated academics, and Spanish classes— like this KIPP elementary school in Houston. If families like it, they can stay on for fifth grade — no need to switch to the “real” KIPP middle school.
SLPS actually has an advantage over brand-name charters — it accepts students at all grade levels. The charter school startups are limiting enrollment to a few grades: KIPP is only taking fifth graders, and the language immersion schools are accepting kindergartners and first graders. SLPS just has to open comparably themed choice schools for a wider range of student ages, and the charters will be left scrambling to catch up.
I know SLPS can do it — I was so impressed by its Career Academy that I unquestioningly believed a report that it was a charter. District schools that look and act like charters won’t have trouble competing, because no one will be able to tell the difference.