damage control

Facing outcry from educators, Kenneth Cole to remove billboard

The Kenneth Cole billboard is visible from the West Side Highway, near 125th Street.

Hundreds of angry educators from across the country seem to have taught the clothing retailer Kenneth Cole a lesson about diction—and union politics.

Late last week we broke the news about a company billboard that invoked a loaded education policy issue using a slogan many teachers viewed as an attack on their profession.

This weekend teachers and advocates responded, in a flurry of posts on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, and a petition 600 signatures strong, calling for a boycott of Cole’s clothing company. Even national union leader Randi Weingarten waded into the fray with Twitter posts criticizing the company, which is headed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s brother-in-law.

The company has now responded. This afternoon, Kenneth Cole Productions used Twitter to send a public message to the creator of the petition, a D.C. teacher-turned-activist, Sabrina Stevens Shupe, that it plans to remove the billboard.

“We misrepresented the issue – one too complex for a billboard – and are taking it down,” the company posted from its Twitter account, @KennethCole.

This weekend, the company posted a different Twitter message clarifying that the ad campaign’s “Intent is to stimulate debate, not pit teachers against students.” The message now appears to have been deleted. The company has not responded to a request for comment today.

But some teachers and advocates say the opposite message came off in the billboard, which reads, “Teachers’ Rights vs. Students’ Rights…” and directs viewers to a website that asks, “Should underperforming teachers be protected?”

“Teachers and students both deserve respect; however, they both have different roles in education. And they are not opponents,” wrote Joann Mickens, an education advocate in Mississippi, on the petition website.

Dozens of advocates joined the call for a boycott of the company, called Kenneth Cole Productions, writing about it on Twitter with the hashtag #boycottkennethcole.

“Don’t pit teachers against students,” Weingarten tweeted, “and Take down your hurtful ad, Kenneth Cole!”

A Queens high school teacher said the billboard’s effect was to “trash” the teaching profession. “Our fondest wish for children in our care is that they grow up,” the teacher wrote in a blog post. “[Kenneth Cole Productions is] hardly doing anyone any favors.”

A GothamSchools commenter posted a letter the commenter sent to the company.

“I have long bought Kenneth Cole products because of the quality and style you offer, and I have also liked that your company does take public stands on important social issues, but this campaign is something I would not have expected your company to be involved in,” the commenter said. “Unfortunately, you have lost a long-time, loyal customer with this ad campaign.”

Boycotts are often ineffective at cutting into a company’s revenues, but can still put pressure on one to change its practices or political messages, according to Brayden King, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management who has researched the effects of boycotts. He said the boycott could damage the company’s reputation, if the billboard’s perceived message really was unintended.

“If the message is not clear, or confusing, or doesn’t resonate with its core audience, then it could backfire and create problems for its reputation in the future,” King said.

Salon.com writer suggested that, in tying its brand identity to the political “movement du jour,” the Kenneth Cole campaign is part of a trend of “elite” companies wading into education reform debates.

New York City’s United Federation of Teachers offered a tongue-in-cheek response that reflected the loaded political implications of the ad’s language.

“We can only hope that the company’s fashion sense is more sophisticated than its treatment of complicated educational and political issues,” a spokesman said in a statement.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.