Book Review                                      Online Exclusive


Marketing Schools, Marketing


Who Wins and Who Loses When Schools

Become Urban Amenities

by Maia Bloomfield Cucchiara, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill., 2013, 281 pp. with index, $30 softcover


In Marketing Cities, Marketing Schools, author Maia Bloomfield Cucchiara discusses the tangled problems that arise for public schools when middle-class families move out of the cities and into the suburbs. She investigates Philadelphia’s Center City Schools Initiative to highlight both the successful improvement of schools and the ethical issues that arise when middle-class families become valued customers and minorities and low-income families are marginalized and disempowered.

Moreover, Cucchiara adeptly portrays the tension between urban revitalizations and public school improvement as a chicken or egg scenario, wondering which comes first?

Cucchiara, a professor of urban education at Temple University and a Philadelphia native, covers both sides of CCSI’s endeavor in a highly readable manner that includes research, interviews and anecdotes. Readers come away with an understanding of the CCSI originators and supporters’ motives, as well as an appreciation for those who see this venture as elitist.

Cucchiara discusses strategies that work and fingers those that come up short. Some of her best writing is in the descriptive narratives detailing interactions between parents of the different socioeconomic status.

In reviewing Philadelphia’s transition to a divided city there are three main themes: “a sense of crisis about the city’s future, a growing faith in market solutions and increasing economic and geographic stratification.” In many ways, Philadelphia is an exemplar of decline and resurgence. The Business Improvement District or Central City District poured money into this area to make it more attractive to residents and visitors, although the aim was to increase the number of young professionals as homeowners.

The language used to openly discuss the goals of these interrelated projects incorporated “knowledge workers,” “middle class“ and “professionals.” The less mentioned racial implications witnessed a decline in the percentage of African American families living and/or attending school in the Central City District and adjacent neighborhoods.

This book also can be read as a public relations or marketing guidebook. Cucchiara describes several schools that rebranded their images by promoting themselves as better than other Philadelphia schools. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy since as more affluent families began sending their children to these schools, the schools became even better.

She details the way the more affluent parents became cognizant of the value of publicity and arranged for positive school news to be covered. These affluent parents spent time designing appealing materials to promote their schools. School fairs and tours were organized by these new public school parents. They shared anecdotal accounts and used extensive word-of-mouth campaigns to draw even more middle-class families.

As a result, the schools experienced a gain in enrollment of students from middle-class families at the expense of African American families. This example perfectly exemplifies both the benefits and the inequalities inherent in such a marketing strategy. She fairly presents the advantages and disadvantages of promoting schools in such a way to attract and retain middle-class families.

Cucchiara’s closing statement firmly wraps up the book and gives readers space to debate the issues themselves: “Schools are more than urban amenities. Treating them as such undermines their promise as public institutions equally responsible to all citizens. It is my hope that this book will not discourage vigorous and broad-based involvement in public education but will rather contribute to the creation of more inclusive and functional city schools-and cities themselves.”

Reviewed by Art Stellar, vice president of the National Education Foundation, McLean, Va.


Give your feedback

Share this article

Order this issue