Data Access: A New Era of Parent and Community Engagement

Data Access: A New Era of Parent and Community Engagement

This is a guest post by Sandra Moscoso, who runs the World Bank Finances Program by day and works on community efforts around education, active transportation, and open government by night. Sandra lives in small, quaint, Washington, DC, where she tries to get a little biking in with her husband and two children.

As a parent with children in DC’s public schools, I need timely, high-quality information to inform the decisions I make for my children. While I’ve been frustrated in the past, it’s been an exciting month for education data in DC. Code for DC released the Open Schools application, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) released its schools report card. Given the multitude of reasons that families pursue a school for their children (particularly in DC, where the lottery and charter landscape provide options), it’s a huge step forward for information beyond standardized testing to be made accessible. It’s also a terrific opportunity to stimulate innovation around data by education activists, volunteer programmers, and data scientists.

Traditionally, because of the legislative (and political) focus on standardized testing, it seemed like the only information parents could somewhat easily access and compare were DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) results. While it’s important in comparing student performance, testing does not tell the whole story about what an individual school offers with regard to programming, community makeup, and other elements closer to those captured by sites like Great Schools.

Factoring in DC’s school lottery practices, it’s tough to even tell whether your neighborhood school is made up of kids from, well, your neighborhood. If sending your child to a school where they are likely to spend time with many neighborhood friends is important to you (for play dates, carpooling), then definitely check out the Open Schools app to see how this was addressed in DC. You can either select a school and see which neighborhoods the enrolled students come from, or you can select a neighborhood and see which schools students from that neighborhood attend. (Spoiler alert: some neighborhoods and schools have more commuters than others). The neighborhood view is a first step, but an exciting one, as it has not been previously addressed. This valuable resource is only possible because OSSE responded to the demand for aggregate-level data and provided them to local developers in a way that ensures access while protecting student privacy.

A more institutional, but extremely comprehensive (and beautiful) picture of DC schools is painted by the new OSSE report card. One of my favorite features includes longitudinal enrollment data by grade, which hints at demand at lower grades and ability for the school to retain students at higher grades. The report card clearly identifies school elements like classification and percentage of highly effective teachers, providing clear descriptions of what these elements mean. And the best part? OSSE will also be making this data open (free, in a structured format), so that activists, researchers, other government agencies, and data do-gooders can carry out their own efforts—or better yet, collaborate with the city to support schools and communities.

Definitely exciting times in education data for DC families; I encourage you to demand nothing less than this in your community!