By Candice Santomauro
Does school performance data really matter to parents? And does it facilitate parent-driven school accountability? As GreatSchools CEO Bill Jackson put it during his testimony before Congress in late 2011, “School performance data is like sunshine for parents. Parents need data to make good decisions about their children’s education.”
Nearly 50 years of research shows that parents have as much impact on student learning as schools do. The payoff would be enormous if we could inspire more parents to support and demand higher levels of academic excellence from their children and their children’s schools. And while parents are first and foremost motivated to ensure that their own children get a great education, through our work we have found that this is the first step in empowering parents to work together toward better schools. As such, we’ve forged partnerships with groups such as Stand For Children Indiana, where we are working together to enhance the quality of information about good schools in Indianapolis and better equip local parents to support their children’s education.
Parents clearly want and need this information. Take the example of Bonita Allen, a DC parent who was searching for a safer school environment for her youngest son. According to Bonita, upon discovering the data provided by GreatSchools, it “made it very easy for me to do a thorough search on the schools I was already interested in, seeing their trending test scores, where the school was located in the city, and most of all what extra-curricular activities and family programming the school offered the students and families. GreatSchools helped give me what I needed to find the right fit.” Or Yvette Fields, a Milwaukee parent who searched for months for school information before discovering GreatSchools. “It was the first time I had seen anything like that: all the numbers laid out, from green schools to test scores, locations and maps.”
The parents we serve represent a diverse cross-section of American families, and they all tell us that school performance data is invaluable to them. On an individual level, this information helps parents find and choose better schools for their children. But it also empowers parents to make their children’s schools more accountable. We’ve heard countless stories of parents using this data to start conversations with their teachers, principals and school board. Data opens the door for parents and allows them to speak with “the experts” about challenging issues.
Since performance data is made available to third parties, we are able to present it to parents in accessible ways. As we get access to better data, we continue to innovate and provide even more value to parents.
Better data, transparent data, is a central component of parental awareness and empowerment. Parents are a mighty force uniquely positioned to contribute to dramatically improving education outcomes in America. And parents’ support and demands upon the system ultimately determines how well the system responds and how well it serves our children and our nation.
Candice Santomauro is the Director of Program Development at GreatSchools, the leading national source of school information for parents, serving 41 million unique visitors annually and 44 percent of American families with children. Candice is based in Washington, DC.
Photo courtesy of BigStock.