- While many parents look at school demographics and test scores when choosing a new school or district, presenting them with growth data is more likely to influence them to consider options they may not have otherwise favored and may help create more integrated schools in the process, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of a new working paper.
- David Houston, a research fellow at Harvard and the paper's lead author, designed an experiment in which participants were presented with the hypothetical choice of finding a new district and given a menu of information that either contained test score performance, growth data, or both sets of information. Participants presented with growth data chose districts where an average of 36% of students were white, while those presented with only test score data chose districts with an average of 43% white students.
- While this study indicates the way growth data is presented to parents can positively influence their decisions, Houston and other observers caution results may not hold up in the real world, where school choice decisions are more multifaceted and parents have the option of actually visiting the school.
Despite numerous efforts to legislate school integration, on the practical level, segregation in schools persists 65 years after the Brown decision, according to a recent report by Civil Rights Project. In some cases, wealthy communities have succeeded in breaking away from their school districts, leaving greater segregation and poverty in their wake.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has acknowledged the impact “massive segregation” is having on the city's schools and is promoting new plans to address the issue. Other districts are also seeking creative solutions for the issue, which is complex and not easily solved.
Growth data, in many ways, is a better measure of school effectiveness because it measures the progress students make during the school year rather than just the point where they started. It has also gained importance in ESSA plans as a measure of school proficiency, though the ways this data is presented and gathered differ widely among states.
Most parents have more options than ever when it comes to choosing their child’s education. With the growth of charter, private and home schools, school districts need to use every tool at their command to present the best case for parents to choose the traditional public school option. These decisions not only impact the racial makeup of schools, but their funding availability as well.
If growth data is positive, school leaders would do well to better communicate this information on websites and in other presentations about their districts. As the authors of this study wrote, “When we inaccurately attribute differences in educational quality to school districts because of the students they serve rather than their effectiveness in serving those students, we shortchange both district and student.”