Finding the Gaps Hidden Beneath the Averages: The Case for Better Public Reporting

This post originally appeared on Data Quality Campaign’s The Flashlight blog.

Today the Data Quality Campaign released Empowering Parents and Communities through Public Reporting, a primer that provides important context for why public reporting about student opportunity and achievement matters. The brief highlights both the value that reporting adds and the shortcomings of many current efforts. But one flaw is especially crucial to underscore: Even as more states provide data beyond the basics required by the federal government, they often fail to break the data out for different groups of students. That’s especially true of measures of college and career readiness.

If a data point is important enough to be publicly reported, it needs to be disaggregated. Otherwise, conversations about a school or district’s performance — and about how to help it improve — won’t be able to spark real change. Why? Repeatedly, districtwide or schoolwide averages mask differences in opportunity and achievement.

Take a high school in New Jersey, where about two-thirds of students are white and about one-quarter are Latino. Overall, about 80 percent of its graduates enroll in college. But dig under that average, and we see that nearly 90 percent of white graduates, but just half of Latino graduates, enroll in college. Or take a Texas high school — half Latino and about 20 percent each African American and white. While more than three in four white graduates at the school are considered “college ready” in both English and math, less than two in four African American or Latino graduates meet that benchmark.

To be clear, these states should be commended for making disaggregated information on achievement and opportunity available. It’s only because they have already done so that we can identify these types of gaps — gaps which, unfortunately, are far too common. Other states should follow their lead in making this sort of information publicly available — to unearth hard realities and allow schools and communities to have tough but necessary conversations.

Public reporting will never tell us everything we need to know about a school or its students, but it’s important for identifying patterns within a school. And it’s crucial for ensuring that parents, educators, and policymakers are paying explicit attention to all groups of students, providing them the experiences and opportunities that will help them soar.

‘It’s Not About Programs’

As I have traveled to high-performing schools with large percentages of students of color and students living in poverty, I have been struck by the different structures they implement. At one high school, educators swear by its four-by-four block schedule; at another they swear by its seven-period day. At one, educators think a freshman academy is best; at another they think it important not to segregate the ninth-graders away from the life of the school.

I have learned to be wary of thinking these kinds of structural changes produce schools’ success. It isn’t that structures aren’t important, but what I have noticed in high-performing schools is that educators craft structures to fit the function. And if something is not successful, they are completely ready to change the structure to see if a different one would work better in their context for their kids and their teachers.

The reason I think this is important is that too often in the education world we fixate on structure and programs and think they will solve our problems. As Conrad Lopes, former principal of Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C. says, “It’s not about programs.” In Huffington Post this week, I talk about this question in the context of the push for small high schools during the last decade.

By the way, Lopes will be speaking on a panel I will be moderating at Ed Trust’s conference Nov. 13-14. If you want to meet and hear from him and other educators who understand that “it’s not about programs,” you should join us.

#EdTrust2014 Full Conference Lineup

Still on the fence about attending The Education Trust 2014 National Conference? Need to make the case for your school team to attend? Look through the full session and plenary schedule to make the decision easy!

Check out the power-packed plenary speakers and topics we’ve got lined up:

  • Get insights from research on African American and Latino male academic success from the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Shaun Harper.
  • Learn from the University of Michigan’s Dr. Deborah Ball how to make good teaching great.
  • Listen to a lunchtime discussion about Common Core implementation with Susana Cordova (Denver chief schools officer), Susan Bunting (superintendent of Indian River School District in Delaware), and Sonja Santelises (Ed Trust vice president of K-12 policy and practice and former Baltimore City chief academic officer).
  • Get energized to fight for justice and learn more about school discipline from the dynamite young leaders and adult allies of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos punctuated by the powerful words of the DC Youth Slam Team.
  • And enjoy back-by-demand performances from Ed Trust’s senior playwright-researcher, Brooke Haycock.

Start planning your conference experience: two days of extraordinarily high-quality programming, time to team-build with your colleagues and make new connections, and non-stop inspiration to recharge your gap-closing, achievement-raising spirits. This is a conference you won’t want to miss.

So what are you waiting for? Register now.

Staying Optimistic in the Midst of Dysfunction

When I feel overwhelmed about the madness in Washington, I have a time-tested strategy: I get myself as fast as I can to a high-poverty school that is hitting it out of the park for poor kids. When I talk with well-supported teachers who have seen their children soar, and when I talk with the kids themselves and hear the pride in their voices and see the new confidence in their eyes, I get renewed energy for the never-ending battles to provide education of consistently high quality to all of America’s children.

But over the course of the last week, I’ve gained new energy — dare I even say optimism? — from a different source: Continue reading

When Schools Don’t Understand the Power of Data

Back when I was a high school parent, I served on the school improvement committee. I kept asking for data on achievement, attendance, test results, and so forth, but it was early on in the life of data use for schools, so mostly I was met with blank looks.

Finally, one year, to fulfill a requirement for a grant from the state, the school gave reading tests to all the incoming freshmen. The resulting data were presented to the committee. Continue reading

How to Strengthen School Accountability

“Count me among those who applaud the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on enforcing fair access to critical educational resources. For far too long and in far too many places, the deck has been stacked against students of color: fewer experienced teachers; less instructional time; fewer teaching resources; antiquated technology. It’s long past time that we turn these patterns around and deliver on the American promise.

But unless the secretary of education takes advantage of the opportunity he will have later this month to reverse an ill-fated decision he made three years ago, there is great risk that schools and districts will get the wrong message: that low achievement for some groups of children doesn’t matter so long as resources are equal. Not a legacy, I suspect, that either the secretary or his boss wants. …”

Read the full column, “Driving for Equity – in What?” here.

A School’s Traditions Demonstrate Its Values

When I visit a school, I am always struck by the traditions and rituals that help establish the school’s identity and signal what a school values.

Most high schools have lots of traditions around athletics, for example. We’re now in homecoming season, which was certainly a big deal at my kids’ high school.

It’s in the non-sports traditions that you can see the real values of a school, though. Continue reading