“Good” or “bad” reputation influences the choosing of schools, particularly among the professional middle class. To prevent the “white flight” of this group, it is essential to prevent stigmatization of particular schools. Several mechanisms and factors produce a positive or negative reputation: 1. parent perspectives on schools, which are primarily based on word-of-mouth flows and social networks; 2. information originating from marketing actions by schools and tools of institutional information (primarily websites and open days); 3. information disseminated via mass-media or social-networks. In general, information on the social mix of schools is the most important factor considered by middle-class families when selecting a school. In addition, a number of professional middle-class families are extremely concerned with test scores and academic performance. To prevent the stigmatization of certain schools, it is essential to carefully select the type of information offered by schools and institutions and the intended audience.
1) IN ORDER TO PREVENT STIGMATIZATION AND “WHITE FLIGHT,” WHAT KIND OF SCHOOL-RELATED INFORMATION SHOULD BE PROVIDED/NOT PROVIDED?
Information about schools should be organized in a uniform manner at the territorial level in order to avoid marketing actions while offering useful information about the schools’ individual qualities and resources. Empirical research demonstrates that the social mix of schools is a crucial factor in understanding their reputation among the networks of parents. To avoid stigmatization processes, it is essential to avoid publishing data and statistics regarding test scores and sociodemographic features of schools. Families are willing to forego the importance of the pedagogical mission, the scores and excellence, and the innovation if the social composition of the school is not acceptable to them. Different studies on this topic have demonstrated that middle-class families do not believe that teachers can compensate for the negative effects of the concentration of disadvantaged students and that they believe that the school is its students (Alegre et al., 2010; S. J. Ball, 2003; M. Raveaud and A. van Zanten). In addition, media coverage and social networks play a significant role in defining a school’s reputation. Public debates should avoid labeling individual schools or areas as “vulnerable,” “poor,” or “segregated.”
2. WHAT TYPE OF INFORMATION SHOULD BE PROVIDED TO SCHOOLS THAT HAVE BEEN DESTIGMATIZED?
It is vital to provide information on specific programs/opportunities that may appeal to the entire population at schools affected by white flight. When analyzing the quality of a school, families with a middle or high level of educational attainment emphasize the importance of the pedagogical project and the level of innovation. Consequently, the decision-making process of these families is founded on their understanding of the pedagogical goal of schools and is highly dependent on the information they obtain from open-door events, interviews, and school visits. Once an institution is deemed valuable by a social network, it gains prestige for all of its members. Parents’ perceptions on the schools, which are primarily based on word-of-mouth flows and social networks, contribute to the schools’ notoriety.
Involving diverse civil society organizations in the “anti-rumor” network might be a strategic benefit. “Anti-rumor agents” can inhibit the spread of rumors by debunking them and stopping the spread of misleading information. In addition, a communication strategy directed at the media to debunk false news and other rumors can be an effective means of enhancing the schools’ reputation. (See Barcelona’s “anti-rumor approach”)
Data and evidence
What kind of information policies may cities develop?
1) To avoid referring to certain schools or communities as “vulnerable,” “poor,” or “segregated.”
2) To provide information on specific programs/opportunities that may be appealing to the entire population at schools affected by white flight.
3) To avoid releasing data on the social composition or performance of schools
Examples of policies and practices
- BARCELONA. Communication and marketing support provided to all schools for improving their attractiveness, mainly in the Open-days events
- MILANO “Discover your closest school” campaign: an informative campaign promoted on the website of the Municipality of Milan to strengthen the relationship between residency and school.
- BARCELONA Informative sessions in each district for families entering the school system where all the educational resources and governance spaces are presented
- BARCELONA Anti-rumours strategy, trining “anti-rumour agents” cutting the -false- information cascades regarding stigmatized schools
- OSLO Municipal website, displaying homogeneous information about local schools
TO KNOW MORE ABOUT
Fong, K. (2019), Subject to Evaluation: How parents Asses and Mobilize Information from Social Networks in School choice, Sociological Forum, 34.1, pp. 158-180.
Raveaud, M., & van Zanten, A. (2007). Choosing the local school: middle class parents’ values and social and ethnic mix in London and Paris. Taylor & Francis, 22(1), 107–124. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930601065817
Lubienski, C. (2016). Marketing Schools. Consumer goods and competitive incentives for consumer information. Education and Urban Society, 40(1), 118–141.