GreatSchools: Why We’re Giving Parents More School Quality Info — and How States Can Step Up to Help
Almost every decision made by American parents can be guided by facts, statistics, and analysis, including choices related to their children. When a person becomes a parent, this information becomes even more crucial. Which is the safest car seat for my child? How does my child’s height and weight compare to those of other children their age? What is the best way to establish healthy sleep habits?
However, once their children enter school, something changes for many parents: the information that was once at the forefront of their decision-making process is no longer readily available.
Parents of school-aged children are just as interested in education, if not more so. They want their children to have access to a great education and a life full of opportunities. However, without extensive media coverage and consumer tests to guide them, parents have no reason to alter their course. In fact, a recent national poll conducted by the parent organization Learning Heroes reveals that 9 out of 10 parents of elementary and middle school students believe their children are on a path to success.
Regrettably, this perception of success for our children is often nothing more than wishful thinking. The gap between our aspirations for our children’s educational achievements and the reality of their actual performance is large, alarming, and continually growing. The truth is, only one out of three eighth-graders demonstrates proficiency in reading and math at grade level.
It is imperative that we bridge this gap. Parents possess the power to improve their child’s educational experience, but they cannot do so without an accurate understanding of the situation.
As the leader of an organization committed to providing parents with reliable information and school ratings, I have heard countless frustrations from parents across the nation regarding the difficulty of obtaining basic insights and data about our schools. This is why our aim at GreatSchools.org is to ensure that our school ratings include the most relevant information for students’ success, presented in a way that is easily accessible and understandable for parents.
More parents require essential information about school performance to make the best possible choices for their children’s education. Without accurate and comprehensible data, it is only natural for parents to believe that everything is going well. This hinders their ability to make well-informed decisions for their families.
Though most state departments of education and local school districts possess the necessary data, it is often not made easily available to parents. Instead, it is tucked away within complex spreadsheets on hard-to-find sections of the agency’s website. For many parents, obtaining the basic information they need to answer a simple question like "What is the best school for my child?" remains too arduous.
Parents want to comprehend what is happening at their local schools. They want to know which courses their child can take to prepare for college. They want to determine if students at a particular school are making academic progress over time. They want assurance that children facing challenges similar to their own child’s are receiving a quality education. Access to these answers should not be a challenge. For the success of both our children and our schools, this information, along with the accompanying data, should be readily available and useful to all.
However, in our efforts to utilize publicly accessible information from state departments of education, we encounter significant obstacles. Some states, like Colorado, make important data incredibly difficult for the public to access. They excessively restrict school-level information in an effort to safeguard student privacy, sometimes going beyond established guidelines.
Then there are states like California, which do provide disaggregated data but have yet to release crucial information on student progress over time, commonly referred to as student growth data, or comprehensive information about post-high school success. While GreatSchools ratings have historically been based on test scores, we recognize that a student’s experience at a school goes far beyond these scores. Parents need to know more about a school than just its test results in order to make sound decisions about their child’s education.
We are proud that our new GreatSchools ratings incorporate the best available school data provided by states, including information on course offerings, student progress, and educational equity. However, we firmly believe that parents deserve even more high-quality information. States must fulfill their obligation to provide transparent education data, encompassing multiple measures of school quality and details on equity.
Only then will parents possess a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the support, opportunities, and potential for success that a school can offer their child. And only then can they take the necessary steps to advocate for high-quality schools that can turn their expectations and dreams for their children into reality.
Matthew Nelson serves as the president of GreatSchools, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization that provides school-level information.
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