ruthless compassion (aroraborealis) wrote,
ruthless compassion
aroraborealis

NCLB, but who cares about the parents?

One of the few good things about No Child Left Behind is that it requires states to make available the student achievement results from each school in the state. In this way, parents should be able to look at how their children's schools are doing, and demand the ever-popular accountability. Now, whether accountability as it's framed in NCLB is actually good... well, I'm not sold. But I do like the idea of making it possible for a parent to say, "Hm, I wonder what's happening in my kids' schools? I'll go check!"

Let's set aside the point that the parents who know that this is a possibility are probably the same parents who would have had a hand in things even before these reports were published online, and that the parents who have easy access to the internet are the same sorts of parents who already go talk to their kids' teachers when things seem to be going awry for their kids.

It is a good thing for the process and the information to be more or less transparent, and, in the spirit of generosity, I read that as the spirit of this requirement of NCLB, rather than that it's simply a desire to make more work for schools and districts. It's good for this kind of information to be available to parents and the community in general. It's also, it turns out, good for people who do things like what I do, which is gather data about a variety of schools to track changes over time, some of which may be due to some project or another.

But one of the things that has become painfully obvious in my working with these data is that almost none of the states set up this information to be easy for parents to access. The requirement is that the information be available. But if you're someone who's not very comfortable with computers, and, say, spreadsheets, downloading an excel sheet with ALL the data for every school in your state, and then interpreting the column headers, and what that means, as one state does, is probably not actually going to help me, if I'm a workinng class mom who has 15 minutes at the library computer to try to figure out how my kids' school is doing.

Additionally, many states create a new URL each year, which makes it more difficult for anyone wanting to look at trends to do so. This also has the handy effect of being confusing, and making it seem that, oh, gosh, the web page only has data up to 2003, I guess they just stopped reporting after that? Unless I know to keep looking, and how to keep looking, it's easy to go away confused and without the information I went searching for in the first place.

Now, NCLB has a lot of problems, as you'll know if you've ever talked to a teacher or school administrator about it. But it's not ALL bad, and it's frustrating to me to see the states obfuscate in this manner, thereby continuing to make it hard for parents to get important information. And it pisses me off that this comes down hardest on those parents who are already least empowered to make deliberate and considered choices about, and to take active roles in, their kids' education.
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