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

Last updated June 19, 2012