The Banality of School Reform Organization Names



By 06/19/2012

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School reform organizations are often doing some great work but I have to tell you than many have some of the worst names I’ve ever heard.  They often look like lyrics from an old Prince album (e.g. Educators 4 Excellence, 50CAN, i3, E3).  Others are just an alphabet soup, randomly spelling words, acronyms, or just jargony gibberish (e.g. PIE Network, DFER, PEPG, NCTQ, CAP).

But the worst of all are the organizations with aspirational names, emphasizing obvious truths akin to the motto of Animal House’s Faber College: Knowledge is Good. Knowledge is Power Program is a great network of schools but it has a truly lousy name.  It’s slightly more tolerable as an acronym, KIPP, but do we really have to tell students that it is good to acquire knowledge?  Is it necessary to name a school YES Prep to remind students to have a positive attitude?  Charter schools are awash in these power of positive thinking names (e.g. Excel Academy, Achievement Prep, Ideal Academy, Options PCS, Youth Build —    and these are just from looking at a list of DC charter schools).

Maybe schools really do have to remind students of the obvious.  Maybe the greater energy devoted to marketing advocacy groups’ names and agendas than to developing solid evidence is actually time well spent.  But I wonder whether students, their families, and the policymaking community are really so susceptible to 1984 Newspeak.

Besides, if reform organizations could move beyond shallow marketing, maybe they could use their names to honor people who exemplified desirable values, so that students and communities could learn from actual examples of how ideals could be made real.  It’s shallow to name the virtue of hard work and sacrifice, but it is much more powerful to name people, whatever their flaws, who are models of hard work and sacrifice.

-Jay Greene




Comment on this article
  • jeffreymiller says:

    Wow, we actually agree on something, Jay. But hey, the reason why those names exist has to do with the very system you yourself advocate–the marketing and privatization of public education. You’re going to get the crazy with the good. But no worries, no actual human children will be harmed in those experiments, eh?

    But kudos to you also for your fun critique via Mood Rings and “A Clockwork Orange”, of the silly Gates-funded study of GSR in education on your website.

  • Jay P. Greene says:

    Jeffrey — You may be further surprised to learn that I agree with you. These lousy school and organization names may well be a product of the market competition I favor. I’ll even admit that some of these shallow marketing tactics may work and help attract students or donors.

    The difference, I suspect, between you and me, Jeffrey, is that I am willing to let people make what sometimes seems to me as a silly choice. Just because I favor markets and liberty doesn’t mean that I abandon all taste or suspend the ability to judge right and wrong. It just means that I am not willing to use the power of the government to impose my taste or judgment about right and wrong on everyone else.

    I do that because I recognize that others have different and potentially valid understandings of what constitutes good taste and desirable practice. I favor the market and liberty because I recognize that the government is no more likely to make good choices. And I favor markets and liberty because human freedom and dignity involve allowing people to make choices other than those I would prefer.

    I’m willing to use my free speech to urge these organizations to adopt more meaningful names, but I’m not willing to have the government force people.

  • elaitch says:

    I am thinking of establishing my own school reform organization and found inspiration for a name within jeffreymiller’s own comment; Crazy And Good Education, aka CAGE, I think would be an apt name for a reform org in the latest fashion. However, since I want to send a signal to the potential Romney administration that my organization is aligned with their values, I am more inclined to go with Learning. Wet. Good.

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