The Banality of School Reform Org Names

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.

And for all you advocacy organizations inspired by Prince lyrics or the sub-literacy of  texting teenagers — Nothing Compares 2 U.

2 Responses to The Banality of School Reform Org Names

  1. Daniel Earley says:

    Very interesting. About a decade ago I was drafted onto the board of a charter high school during its early formation. Due to its proximity to a river, it had already been dubbed “Riverside Technology High School.” After applying some home grown but still valid and quantified market research, I succeeded in renaming it “DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts.” This had the interesting effect of strengthening the engineering component of the school’s mission and culture when it opened, among other things.

    Names absolutely matter and they should inspire. I would only add that the market research needs to be objective, strategic and competent, despite the best intentions and occasional lucky strike when shooting from the hip.

  2. [...] just an alphabet soup, randomly spelling words, acronyms, or just jargony gibberish.” “The Banality of School Reform Org Names”, Jay P. Greene’s blog, June 19, 2012. Citing the examples of KIPP and YES Prep, among others, [...]

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