In our daily lives, choice and information give us power. We have the power to scour Zillow before going to an open house or use TrueCar to make sure we never overpay for a vehicle. Increasingly, families across the nation are being empowered through school choice as well.
Brookings Institute estimates that more than half of school-aged children in the United States are attending a school that has been actively chosen by their parents – be it a traditional public school or a charter, magnet, private or virtual school.
School choice is on the rise, and that’s something to celebrate. Data shows that when public schools face competitive pressure through increased school options in their area, student results improve. This means that school choice and market forces can bring much needed disruption to our nation’s school systems. And now more than ever, parents are creating demand for change.
School choice on its own isn’t enough though. Without meaningful, consistently standardized data, picking a school for your child can feel like selecting a card from a magician’s deck. School choice shouldn’t allow us to “pick a school, any school” for our kids. It must allow us to pick the best school for our kids, to be our child’s Chief Advocate.
I learned this the hard way when my family and I moved from Washington to California a couple years ago. I had set out to find a good school for my daughter Soraya and was looking for basic information about the schools in our new hometown. How rigorous is the curriculum? Is bullying a problem?
I came up empty in an online search, and started calling around and visiting schools. After about 30 school tours, I figured parents around America need a better way.
Parents Need a Different Kind of Big Data
While several organizations provide families with school facts, such as the National Center for Education Statistics and GreatSchools, information is often buried and difficult to surface and understand, lacking analytics to reveal meaningful insights, or limited in scope. Parents need more data points that impact student success, easier ways to find information important to them, and effective tools for creating change.
The opportunity lies in big data. Thanks to platforms like Google, we should be able to search detailed facts about schools, for example “which high schools in Austin offer Robotics?” For this to occur, we must gather, index, standardize, and surface millions of currently unsearchable variables on schools.
While many school districts and states are willing to provide access to their aggregated data, exporting and sharing data from their systems is often a burdensome process. Additionally, the data comes in various formats due to differences in proprietary systems and data entry methods.
Standardizing school variables across the US is one of our key missions at Schoolie, because it will allow us to precisely understand which schools are excelling and which schools need to improve. For example, after standardizing variables across 79 high schools in 10 California districts, we found a significant discrepancy between AP course grades and AP test scores. Seventy-eight percent of students received A and B grades in their AP courses, but only 50 percent received a four or five on the AP exam. This insight, if easily searchable, would help parents figure out which schools will properly prepare their children for AP exams and what areas they may need to supplement.
The influx of standardized, meaningful data – coupled with greater school choice and parent awareness (thanks to initiatives like the Smart Parents blog and book) will help drive our public schools to keep up with competition, and in turn, create fairer educational opportunities for all students no matter their zip code.
This blog is part of our Smart Parents blog series and book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning in partnership with The Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information, please see our Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning page, and:
- Parents Smarten Up About Education. You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next…
- Smart List: Homework Help & Parent Organizing
- “A Must-Read for Parents and Educators”
Nasha Fitter is Founder and CEO at Schoolie. Have questions? Email Nasha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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