As a parent, I’ve always wanted the best for my daughter. When I sent her to school every morning, I wanted to feel confident that she would get what she needed day by day to build the skills and knowledge to achieve whatever she wanted in life.
To understand whether schools are meeting the mark, and to play an active role in our kids’ education, the first thing parents need is easy access to good information.
A recent Star Tribune editorial (“More than test scores defines good schools,” April 21) criticized a proposal to create a clear school rating system, arguing that the proposal needs work. I agree that we need to get this system right and that past attempts haven’t cut it. But, frankly, it’s time to stop making excuses and kicking the can down the road. Minnesota needs to get serious about school transparency.
For too long, families have made important decisions about their children’s education based on assumptions, half-truths and word of mouth. It’s time to empower families with meaningful data so that they really know how local schools are doing.
Over the past few months, dozens of parents, including me, went to the Capitol to tell state leaders how important school transparency is to us and why we believe a clear rating system is a key piece of that. We want and urgently need overall school ratings that give us an entry point to understanding how schools are doing. These ratings would complement, not replace, a more detailed dashboard where we can dig in to make sense of academic outcomes and much more.
More than 40 other states have already figured this out. They offer families clear school ratings so that they can understand school performance overall.
Every family should have good, accessible information. Right now, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) publishes a “report card” with things like school demographics, test scores and graduation rates. But for many parents, the information is overwhelming and doesn’t offer any way for them to evaluate or compare schools’ overall performance. I’ve met so many parents who feel frustrated by this report card, I’ve offered training to help them learn how to use it.
MDE is currently working with a committee to replace this report card with a new “data dashboard.” But without clear signals to help parents navigate what all the data means, this new dashboard could turn out to be just as daunting for families as the system it’s replacing.
That’s why it’s important that Minnesota policymakers act now, not wait, to make sure that the state’s new dashboard includes straightforward school ratings. Unlike the state’s past attempt, the current proposal would include multiple factors to create more holistic ratings. Of course, one rating can’t capture every detail about how a school is doing. But it can give families an important starting point to evaluate a school’s overall academic performance. As Minnesota gets better at collecting data, we can make these ratings even stronger.
As a parent, realizing that your child is not thriving in school is painful and terrifying. When you reach this moment, what you need is to feel supported and informed, not overwhelmed and powerless.
With summative ratings, you’d have a place to start. You’d be able to understand, at a glance, how your school is doing compared to where it should be. Then, using the state’s more detailed dashboard, you’d be able to dig in deeper to understand why a school’s rating is what it is, to ask questions and to figure out what that means for your family and your child.
Being informed about and involved in our children’s education is one of the most important things we can do as parents. That’s why empowering parents with easy-to-understand information on school performance is one of the most important things state policymakers can do.
Khulia Pringle, of St. Paul, is a parent, community organizer and education advocate.