Panel Reviews How States Post Education Data Online
States' posting of school performance evaluations online is giving parents and educators quick access to vital information they need, but some states are doing a much better job of it than others are.
That's what some top state policymakers and education pundits said at a panel discussion here last week. The panel's sponsor, the Heritage Foundation, used the forum to highlight its study of state efforts to post school performance evaluations on the Web.
"The Internet is key because you can compare schools so quickly," Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado, a Republican, said during the discussion.
The Highest Ratings
The study by the Washington think tank, titled "The Report Card Report: America's Best Web Sites for School Profiles," which was released this summer, found that 33 states were putting school performance information on the Web, and that some private companies and nonprofit groups were also posting such evaluations online.
But the quality of the state efforts varies, according to the report, which was posted on the Web last month.
Heritage Foundation researchers gave the highest ratings to online report cards published by Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania because, the authors say, their sites have a wide variety of information that is easy for novice users to understand.
Colorado's report card, for example, allows users to search for schools based on criteria such as location, school size, test scores, dropout rate, and other factors. Parents can enter as many criteria as they wish in their searches.
Pennsylvania has a state report card that publishes schools' staffing and budget information as well as test scores.
The Keystone State also has a Web site on which it publishes an analysis comparing student achievement to school spending. The analysis is conducted by Standard & Poor's, the financial-reporting company that has produced a similar report on Michigan schools. ("Mich. Districts Get Report Card From Wall St.," May 30, 2001.)
Private organizations are also active in putting school report cards online.
On its Web site, the Heritage Foundation has a map of the states that includes links to the 33 states that publish online report cards.
Federal Mandate Proposed
Legislation pending in Congress would require all the states to publish online school report cards.
Under the Bush administration's proposal to reauthorize federal K-12 programs, schools would be required to publish test-score data broken down by racial and ethnic group. Many of the state report cards don't disaggregate such data today.
"Information is hidden behind the averages," Undersecretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok, a former secretary of education in Pennsylvania, said at last week's panel discussion.
"For the first time, a district will have to ask itself whether the whole population is achieving," he said.
The administration won't require states to put the report cards online, but expects that many of them will, a Department of Education official said at the Heritage panel discussion.
Armed with new online data, parents have the ability to push for changes in their neighborhood schools or choose to send their children elsewhere, said several policymakers and commentators who attended the Heritage panel discussion.
"That's the power of this information," Mr. Hickok argued. "You create—all of a sudden—something that's been missing in education: incentives."
As states and districts broaden their public-school-choice programs and policymakers, in some places, push to expand those choices to private schools through voucher programs, the report cards will play an important role in helping parents consider their options, according to Thomas Dawson, a co-author of the Heritage Foundation report.
"Accessible consumer information is vital to any education system that incorporates school choice," writes Mr. Dawson, an education research fellow at the think tank.
Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 14