by Kevin Killion
Since this page was originally written, Unicom-ARC has become much more careful about how much they reveal on their own website. The quotes we show here were indeed on their website at the time this was originally written.
Here is their own statement of what they do:
Since 1970, our INTEGRATED approach has helped the UNICOM•ARC team build an 80% "win" record in 118 election campaigns and develop a well-earned reputation for taking on difficult and complex issues and turning them into success stories.This bit is revealing:
Using research as a guide we implement the most effective strategies to reach out to the target audience and build better understanding or awareness of an issue or product. This is best achieved by letting your audience "discover" firsthand the challenges you face or the advantages of your product or service, then engaging them in meaningful two-way dialog at a grassroots level.(Note: the extremely revealing quotes above around the word "discover" are theirs, not ours!)
UNICOM-ARC's pride over the "accomplishments" of its head of their educational division is described this way:
Dan Burns, Executive Director of Education Communications, UNICOM•ARCHere, UNICOM-ARC is very proud of what they did in west suburban district 300:
As the long-time Director of Communications and Planning for the Rockwood (MO) School District, Dan was widely regarded as one of the top school communicators in the nation. During his tenure there, the District passed 13 bond proposals totaling $240 million (including the largest school bond proposal ever passed in the St. Louis County area) and three successful operating levy increases.
In November 2000, UNICOM•ARC helped the District pass an $88 million bond issue (which required a 33-cent tax increase)... The campaign was preceded by a lengthy public engagement process, facilitied by UNICOM•ARC, in which more than 3,000 District residents participated in the creation of a the plan which was eventually approved by voters.On the same page they also report winning awards at the recent conference of the NSPRA, the National School Public Relations Association. UNICOM-ARC presented one of the sessions at this spin-fest, and here is the official description of that session from the conference program book:
Promoting a facilities or operations plan created "top down" by district officials is becoming increasingly difficult. This session will outline a groundbreaking process to engage the public to "discover" the challenges you face, and then create and support a plan to meet your needs.Once again, the quotes around the word "discover" are theirs, not ours!
(For much more detail on the events of the NSPRA conference, follow the links near the bottom of this page to the reports from the Education Intelligence Agency.)
Of particular interest, take a look at UNICOM-ARC's web page on "case studies":
Community Unit District 300 in western suburban Chicago had lost three times in a row at the polls with plans to deal with explosive student growth and severely aging facilities. ... District 300 had to deal with a vigilant anti-tax group who opposed all ballot initiatives, along with a series of unpopular administrative decisions that led to a complete lack of trust of the District by the public. ... Utilizing UNICOM•ARC's award-winning model for public engagement, the newfound FACE Committee held planning meetings in every school building, brought in architects and financial planners, and created a new plan ... With the momentum from that process behind them, the FACE leaders then led the election campaign for an $88 million bond issue that residents approved in November 2000.
That's the pitch from another public relations outfit, "School Perceptions LLC" from Slinger, Wisconsin. SP stands ready to sling a professional PR image around your community, just as they've done for some "150 schools across the country". In Illinois, they've been hired by a number of school districts including Antioch D34, Northbrook D30, Schaumburg D54 and Sunset Ridge D29.
They make it clear what they can do for your entrenched school administration: "Our pre-referendum survey will help you build ownership and support ..."
SP was started in 2002 by a Bill Foster, who SP says "is highly sought-after by districts when they consider referendum planning." Foster is the author of a very revealing article published by the Illinois Association of School Boards - perhaps it was too revealing as it has now been pulled off of the IASB website. In the article, "Biased Survey Beats Unbiased For Influence", Foster notes that traditional surveying isn't enough: "To gain that public support, in my opinion, school boards must master the art of community engagement. ... the process of building ownership in solutions and gaining support for a referendum includes much more than a traditional sampling survey." Foster says, "a small number of people have a great deal of influence over what others think and how others behave. It follows that these same people also have a great deal of influence over how others vote." For that reason, Foster encourages districts not to use a random sample which, he says, "may only reach 2 to 4 percent of the community. With this strategy, you will miss most of the influentials in your community." Instead, Foster advises districts to survey everyone in the community. He says, "The influentials, by their nature, will rise to the task. ... A survey that is available to everyone in your school community will automatically be biased toward this select group."
SP promises money-hungry districts that SP's "Community Engagement for Operational and Capital Referendum Planning" has one overriding goal: "Bringing your community together to make difficult decisions" which, we presume, means the "correct" decisions.
... to gather data from teachers on what strategies they use and their level of proficiency in different areasOr, to put it another way, have they been properly drinking the Kool-Aide served at your teacher in-service sessions?
Would you like to know what the teachers in your district are saying? What strategies are they using, and which ones do they struggle with? ... The inventory ... help[s] your teachers develop new instructional strategies.Let there be no doubt: The PPI questions are consistently skewed in favor of modern fuzzy-wuzzy ed theories. Answering each item in the constructivist way indicates "mastery," while low compliance indicates a need for more "training." So, are your teachers working in the fields of happy constructivist theory? Here are a couple of examples.
SP's demo of PPI asks teachers to what extent they comply with the statement,
"I use multiple intelligences to understand each student and address his or her strengths."Note that they do not ask teachers for their opinions on statements such as
"The 'Multiple Intelligences' fad ranks right up their with other pseudo-science crockery such as aura-reading and Chakra-tuning."
SP's PPI demo also asks about this: "I am sensitive to the cultures represented by my students, and plan for their diversity." (We have to wonder: what teacher would disagree with that, thus inviting the bigwigs to let loose another round of diversity consultants? Aaaaccck!)
Some other loaded statements in a demo PPI questionnaire include:
SP does throw in this statement, as sort of an after-thought:
It's interesting that as school districts and boards are squawking louder and louder about money (even in exceptionally well-larded districts), they see no problem with spending dough on public relations gimmickry rather than on engaging the community in honest discussions of the kinds of schools they want -- the kind of discussion that could lead to genuine community support.
More and more, the voters are wising up. In response, tax hike proponents are being more cautious in their PR efforts. From the Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2002:
"You have to be real careful about looking too slick and too clean," [the co-chairman of a Naperville campaign] said. "You want it to be citizens selling the referendum to citizens. You don't want it to be Madison Avenue selling it. People get suspicious."Even UNICOM-ARC is aware that there are limits to polished campaigns on behalf of skyrocketing tax hikes. From the Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2002:
"In more and more communities, there seems to be more opposition that is cropping up ... they are much more organized than they were 20 years ago. They are networked," said Rodney Wright, president of UNICOM/ARC...Dear readers, welcome to the network!
For more information on the role, perspectives and involvement of teachers, parents and the community with schools, see these additional pages on our website: