Statistically Speaking, My High School Sucked


NBC, the Gates Foundation, and a bunch of other folks have put together a pretty nifty little school data project: The Education Nation Scorecard. Put in a school, and it spits out a handy-dandy graphical interface (thanks Fathom!) that tells you how the school stacks up against other schools, the district against other districts, the state against other states, and the country against other countries. You can get the comparisons for graduation rates, along with a variety of test scores for various grade levels.

Just for giggles, I put in my alma mater T.C. Williams, the only public high school in Alexandria, Virginia. Here's a screen grab of the district-level results:

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The interesting thing about making lots of data readily accessible: You learn things you didn't know that you didn't know. I was aware that my school had some serious failings. (In fact, it recently won the label "persistently low achieving.") But as a student there, I thought the experience was pretty OK. In fact, most people think their neighborhood public school is pretty OK, or even good.

That's because they don't know better. As a student at T.C. Williams, I could see that the school was relatively clean and relatively safe. I got a good education there. What I couldn't see was that all around me students were failing to learn to read and write, that they were dropping out at higher rates than almost anywhere else in the state. Nor could I see that Virginia's testing standards were significantly less rigorous than most states, making the failure to meet those standards all the more depressing. And if you don't know your school sucks, you're not going to complain.

An interesting coalition is forming around data-driven school reform. In the wake of the Los Angeles Times teacher quality data dump, NBC made what was essentially a weeklong infomerical for the excellent documentary Waiting for Superman, and Bill Gates announced that he was going to be dropping some more millions into education technology (for higher ed, but with more to come for K-12 later). Snazzy infographics are a nice early step.

The site anticipates that most people will react to their school's scores by asking "what can I do?" That isn't a good sign for the American education system. But the fact that they will now have the data to know to ask that question is a step in the right direction.

Via Flowing Data.