Digital, local movement ensures candidates 'Don't Forget Education'

Chances are if you have heard of the College Board, you know us as "the SAT guys." While standardized tests are an important part of what we do, they are not the only thing.

Chances are if you have heard of the College Board, you know us as "the SAT guys." While standardized tests are an important part of what we do, they are not the only thing.

In 2012, the board decided to burnish our reputation as an advocate for education. To accomplish that, we wanted to become part of the biggest conversation in our democracy - the presidential election.

Political pundits said the election would be about the economy and nothing more, but when we surveyed 1,839 voters across nine key swing states, 67% felt education was crucial and ranked behind only jobs and the economy as a top issue.

Buoyed by those findings, we set out to create a movement, mobilizing people to call on candidates with a simple but powerful message: Don't Forget Ed.

The movement had to be loud, unique, and manageable. Social media is a great tool for seeding and growing movements with limited expenditure. Through Facebook, Twitter, and a website, we gave 17,000 people several platforms to share opinions and push the candidates to make education a priority. Using these resources, we collected more than 29,000 signatures and delivered a petition to the moderators of the presidential debates to demonstrate the public hunger for a real discussion about education.

We produced two videos highlighting the crisis in our schools that received about 300,000 views on YouTube. The public sent more than 10,000 tweets to the candidates using our hashtag #DontForgetEd.

We looked for every opportunity to infiltrate the dialogue. We placed 857 empty desks in front of the Washington Monument to represent the number of students who drop out of school every hour of each school day in America. The visual made for an iconic photo that generated coverage as far away as India, Russia, and China.

On Wall Street, we created an installation made of fake $100 bills - $1.5 billion in cash - to represent the money that would be added to the economy each year if the high school dropout rate were reduced by just 1%. The installations conveyed our message more effectively than a press conference ever could.

The College Board was mentioned positively in news stories in outlets such as The New York Times, AP, and CNN. By taking a stand in such a politically charged environment, the group built credibility as a fearless and passionate champion for education.

Peter Kauffmann is VP of communications at the College Board.

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