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Branding: The Challenge Charter Networks and Schools Face

Charter networks operate the modern era’s most important educational innovations, and provide a smart strategy for working optimally within the school network sphere. There are over 100 high-quality scaled charter networks in the U.S.; most share a learning model, professional supports, and—increasingly—platform tools. Networks streamline school improvement and help build great new schools from scratch.

However, with increased competition and other market forces affecting elementary, middle, and high school education, branding has emerged as a strategic imperative for charter networks. Branding in education faces many inherent challenges, including a management company’s multi-pronged missions and decentralized organizational structures. In some cases, branding is not widely understood or valued among board of directors colleagues, presenting another organizational barrier. These challenges become even more complicated with larger networks that span across multiple cities, counties, and states.

Building a compelling and differentiated brand has never been more important for charter networks. Due to a convergence of factors, such as increased competition and the growth of online education, a strong brand is now critical for charter networks amid a rapidly-changing education landscape.

With more than 7,500 charter schools in the United States (and growing), charter networks are operating in an increasingly cluttered and competitive environment. Competition for both prospective students and teaching talent is at an all-time high.

Charter networks must stand out in a crowded marketplace by helping their schools uniquely positioning themselves and clearly demonstrating their value to their respective communities. Branding is about building and eventually owning a position.

As a result, branding is emerging as an essential strategic leadership function for charter networks. In time, schools will not survive if they have been unable to define and effectively communicate their unique value proposition.

The combination of specialization, competitive employment conditions, and new instruction methodologies will almost certainly lead to an increasing number of network failures in charter education in the coming years. The schools that will feel the pressure most will be those that have failed to distinguish themselves from others in any meaningful way.


Despite the growing need for charter networks to have a compelling and differentiated brand, the culture and structures of public education – a unique and complex sector – can present challenges to the development of coherent brands. Schools in different regions have multi-pronged missions and a myriad of constituencies to serve, including prospective students, current students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, government and civic leaders, and accrediting bodies. Furthermore, many charter networks are decentralized, with individual schools and units inside the network often operating with substantial autonomy.

While charter network leaders can learn from corporate branding approaches, a multitude of challenges make branding in academia unique. Charter networks are complex organizations that serve many constituent groups, have various elements to their missions, and often operate in decentralized cultures. Focus is a core principle of effective branding, but having a focused brand can be difficult to achieve in a charter network setting.

These challenges and complexities only intensify with larger networks that have multiple schools along with varying academic programs, hundreds of employees, and thousands of parents and students.

Few, if any, large charter networks are known for their brand coherence.


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