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Massachusetts parents have encountered more than the usual back-to-school sales at the malls this fall.

Employees of a statewide Parent Information Center have been giving shoppers there detailed profiles of school districts, hoping to arm them with the information they need to be smarter school consumers.

The two-page data sheets--with more than 300 facts about each of the state's 330 school districts--are the brainchild of Michael J. Sentance, the acting secretary of education.

As a school-committee member, Mr. Sentance was frustrated by the lack of easy-to-find data about his district. Once he moved to the state's executive office of education, he set about making that information easier to find by creating the Parent Information Center.

In two years, the center has mailed 100,000 copies of the profiles to 20,000 callers.

"School-council members tell me they've used them to develop their local school-improvement plans," Mr. Sentance said. "Principals and superintendents tell us they use them to develop grants because they are the best single source of information."

The profiles also are popular with local real-estate agents, who use them to tout the benefits of living in communities with good schools.

The statistics are available on the Internet at or by calling (800) 297-0002.

In the works: individual profiles of every school in the state.

Parents value reading to their children, helping them with homework, and asking them about school more than attending school events or volunteering at school, a recent survey found.

The national survey of 1,032 parents of K-6 children waspart of a public-awareness campaign sponsored by the Institute for Educational Leadership, the Mattel Foundation, and Mattel Inc.'s new Teacher Barbie doll.

Nearly 70 percent of the parents said it was extremely important for parents to spend time at home encouraging children to do their schoolwork. Only 43 percent said it was equally important to be involved in activities at school.

"The widely held assumption that parents have little or no involvement in their children's education requires reassessment," said Michael Usdan, the president of the Washington-based iel.

But the poll's findings suggest, he added, that the gap between parents' involvement at home and at school must be bridged.

--Ann Bradley

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