Parents need more information to hold schools accountable

by Samantha Brown Olivieri

Note: Article originally published in The Hill

This week, states begin submitting their implementation plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act and they find themselves in the driver’s seat to ensure that the public has access to clear and accurate information about schools in their community. The challenge for states will be to find the political will to do the right thing when it comes to accountability. And to do the right thing for parents, especially as federal and state policymakers increasingly promote the expansion of school choice.

Whether parents are choosing schools in urban areas or working hard to improve schools in rural communities, they must have access to clear and accurate information about how schools are serving our children. Parents are the front line in the fight for improving our children’s education — the federal government and states need to ensure that parents are empowered with the information they need to help their children get the education they deserve.

State governments need to provide data on school performance and access to educational opportunity that go beyond test scores, including student academic growth, postsecondary outcomes, and course access.

We know the top priority for parents when evaluating schools is the quality of the academics, including access to great teachers, rigorous coursework, and a positive, safe, enriching learning environment. Parents need to know how schools are serving diverse communities, and whether schools provide equitable access to rich educational experiences for all students. Parents also want easy ways to understand and compare schools, including a summary rating for each school, along with clear measures of quality through different lenses.

When seeking information they can trust, parents often turn to their social networks and peers. Of course, the quality of the information that parents receive depends on the quality of the information within their network. The risk is that parents are lead to believe that schools are doing a better job than they actually are, and don’t find out that their child has fallen behind until it’s too late. A recent survey by Learning Heroes found that 90% of parents think their kids are on track academically, while the actual number is less than 40%.

Choice without transparency and accountability is a recipe for frustration for parents, and worse, potential failure for students.

Without a concerted effort to get relevant and objective information about our schools into the hands of parents across the country, an expansion of school choice could confuse parents more than clarify good options.

State governments need to provide data on school performance and access to educational opportunity that go beyond test scores, including student academic growth, postsecondary outcomes, and course access. It is critical these data are provided by school and disaggregated by race, socio-economics, disability, language, and gender, because parents need to know how schools are serving students with characteristics similar to their own child.

The federal government needs to continue the collection of robust data through the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which uniquely sheds light on how schools serve different groups of students. If this process is left solely to the states, the Trump administration would fall short on their promise to ensure our nation’s schools are helping our most vulnerable children. Currently, no states make all the data included in the CRDC publicly available. Empowering parents with this information is absolutely essential if we hope to reverse generational tides of race- and income-based inequality in our education system.

And third parties need to make high quality school information more accessible to parents. A study shows that American adults are more likely to trust school ratings from independent organizations than those provided by state government. State and federal governments need to make data accessible to third parties who can more effectively translate it for parents to help families make better decisions.

A community organizer once described her experience helping parents navigate amongst poor quality school options as “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Choice without transparency and accountability is a recipe for frustration for parents, and worse, potential failure for students. But by empowering parents with good information about schools and providing concrete steps for how they can help their child, parents can be a powerful force for supporting quality education. And by doing this, we can get closer to the American promise of providing opportunity for all.

About the author

Samantha Brown Olivieri is the VP, Growth & Strategy at GreatSchools.


GreatSchools is the leading national nonprofit empowering parents to unlock educational opportunities for their children. We provide school information and parenting resources to help millions of American families choose the right school, support learning at home, and guide their children to great futures.


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