Schools are many different things.They are that next ring out from home life where community and families bring their children into the world. On the other hand, schools are mandatory attendance institutions that are arms of local, state and federal laws and funding.
And schools and districts play multiple roles: babysitting children during the day so parents can work, providing a vehicle to socialize beyond the family and offering an environment where mind, body and character can develop.
In the best-case scenario, schools challenge students to push beyond their boundaries. In the worst case, they are warehouses that can easily lead to the streets and to jail.
How should we measure schools, and for whom?
Schools generally take a short view. Annual rankings by GPA, test results and percentage of college acceptances are crude measures and poorly reflect the intellectual – and character-building capacity of a school district.
The numbers that shine come to the front: top students, top athletes, stories against the odds. The rest is suppressed: dropouts, drug problems, problems with the law, inequities in delivering services. Still, none of those measures go beyond school itself, without looking at the outcomes.
The state houses lots of data on each of us – where we work, how much money we make and where we attended school and college. This data is rarely organized to show how one district or its schools compare to others based on the long-term outcomes of their students.
Organizing this information to inform local and regional schools and districts would not result in the outing of personal data – it already exists, but could be much better organized. This would be valuable trend data devoid of identifying information and would show us what results our schools and districts are producing.
The National Student Clearinghouse, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, follows students from high school through college. It shares their data with school districts for a hefty price. Most districts do not share it with parents or the community. It is one thing to know if students go off to college, another to know whether they complete it.
In Monterey County, two data-oriented organizations provide useful data. Ed Results, a Sacramento-based nonprofit, is contracted by the state to measure the outcomes of students. They bring the data together from school, community college, university and the California Employment Development Department. Educational Results Partnership can tell us the yield of a school district, community college or university in terms of college completion and employment.
The Monterey County Office of Education and our school districts should get together and look beyond graduation to deliver what all parents hope for: students who succeed in life beyond school.