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Report: Parents Need Comparable Data, Tools to Make School Choices

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In states where parents can exercise choice about which schools their children attend, more effort should be made to help those parents understand the data collected about schools, and to ensure the information is what they need to reliably compare schools, according to a new report.

"The arguments for allowing public school choice...generally presuppose that parents have some basis upon which to choose a school," writes Jon Fullerton in "Harnessing Data and Analytics 2.0."

Without reliable information "we would expect choice to be most effectively exercised by parents who have the time and social capital needed to capture nonpublic information about the different options available," writes Fullerton, who is executive director of the Project for Policy Innovation in Education at Harvard University. "Other parents with fewer resources will simply need to guess or not participate in choice at all. Unfortunately...the amount of information available to parents as they make this critical decision is often pitifully small."

Fullerton's analysis, released on May 30 is part of the new Pathway to Success project, a collaboration on system-wide education reforms by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

In his portion of the Pathway project, Fullerton recommends that states:


  • Provide parents with ample information about schools. This includes information about both the academic achievement and growth of their students, along with descriptions of program offerings and school approaches to education.

  • Develop and maintain rich longitudinal data on all schools in the system. Data should be collected on all students in participating independent schools in a system as well; and,

  • Make "parent-friendly" reports and tools available to help parents sort through the options available.

While Fullerton asserts that leveraging state longitudinal data will be necessary, he also maintains that states might not be the best disseminators of this information. To make the data "user friendly," he believes the task of presenting the data should be outsourced to organizations like GreatSchools "with the proven ability to communicate unbiased information simply and clearly," he writes.

Fullerton highlights Wisconsin's efforts to provide the kind of data that parents need via the Wisconsin Information Network for Successful Schools, which shares information about academic achievement, student behavior, and program offerings.

More recently, the state's Department of Public Instruction has bolstered that information with "growth reports" for schools, demonstrating the academic growth of students in a school compared to the state average for "typical" growth for the same demographic and prior achievement levels.

In his conclusion, Fullerton states that systems need to be created to provide consistent and relevant data that parents, school leaders, and education policymakers need "that can cross the boundaries of multiple providers of educational services. This will give states, school providers, and parents the information they need to manage toward outcomes, as opposed to the simplistic data they currently receive that confirms the failure or success of students long after it is too late to do anything about it."

See our full coverage of parent empowerment issues.

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