On The Way To School Choice the DOE Just Kicked Over All The Signs Parents Need To Choose Schools

The Department of Education (DOE) no longer requires each school to report one overall score or rating of their performance, and as a parent I feel cheated.

Why?  Because there was no replacement offered to give parents an easy way of knowing how our schools are doing.

It’s fine if the new DOE administration doesn’t feel the method of single-rating is useful to their work of supporting high-quality education.  Surely they are able to require other kinds of data to get to the root of how schools are performing.  What’s not fine, however, is ignoring the fact that the rest of us non-education-insiders (AKA, parents) need it.

And, even more worrisome is the fact that previous guideline changes with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) had already given districts the latitude to create their own method of scoring their schools.  Pair this with an absence of a single-rating system and accountability could be eroded at warp speed.

What’s in a Grade?

In Broward, like most of the country, this single-rating comes in the form of a school grade ranging from “A” to “F”.  The letter grade is determined by a formula combining student scores on standardized tests, end of year exams, graduation rates, and individual learning gains, among other things.

That grade also takes into account if schools are moving their lowest 25% of students.  And let’s face it, this quartile is usually made up of brown and poor kids.

School grades allow us to ask more questions.  We are not educators or administrators, so complicated measurements and multi-point reports will be useless to us.  These letter grades bring us into the conversation, opening the door to find out more if we so choose.

Destroying Accountability

The most important purpose of the grade is to give parents like me (the consumers of school choice) an easy onramp to understanding what’s going on in my child’s school, or compare schools to determine which one I want my kid to attend.

Well, our dreams have been dashed with this March 13th DOE decision.  And, though the announcement does NOT mean that schools are prohibited from formulating a grade and using the single-rating system locally, with the weakened requirement, they don’t have to.

This is a BIG loss for parents in states that are already yelling that a single-rating undermines all that is happening in their schools.  So, let’s just address that elephant in the room.  No…a single-rating may not communicate all aspects of a complicated learning environment.  But, it does simplify many measurements and provides a pivot point to begin the dialog.

Today school grades shines the light exactly where it belongs…in all the dark places.  There is nothing to hide behind and we can have a conversation using the same language. That’s accountability.

What Can Parents Do?

The most disturbing part of this scenario is the simple disregard for what parents need.  Is this what is to be expected?  It is time to demand that our schools and our legislators find a way to easily tell us about our schools’ performance.

If it’s not by grade, then find another tool.  Some states use a 1-5 scale, with five being “exceeds expectations”.  Or, possibly a star-rating. California did away with grades 3 years ago to build something new.  But their new dashboard is being met with mixed reviews because it might be too hard to understand.

No matter what rolls down from our state capital, we parents have to keep our eyes peeled. We are the consumers of school choice. Removing the a single-scoring requirement has essentially removed our ability to discern value in the school marketplace.

I am not ok being left to compare apples to carrots.

What do you think?


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