In reflecting on transparency in government, I thought I’d take a look around the country at a few other urban school districts to see how they make data available to the public. Are there school districts out there that are models for all in terms of making data accessible?

Today, LA, Denver, and Houston. Tomorrow, DC, Chicago, and Baltimore. If there are other cities you think I should look at, leave a comment. Next week, we’ll see what users in each of these cities have to say about the availability of data – if you’re from one of the featured cities and can provide perspective, please email me. Also, what tools would be most helpful to you as someone interested in education?

In exploring each site, I looked to see what information is available, in what format, how quickly I found it, and whether special tools were available to help me navigate the data and answer my own questions. Please keep in mind that since I’m not from these other cities, I’m a “naive user” of these sites, perhaps similar to a parent or community member interested in but not expert at finding what’s out there. If I’ve missed anything on any of the sites I visited, let me know so I can update this.

Screenshot of California's STAR system
Screenshot of California's STAR system

Starting out west, I spent a few minutes at the LA Unified School District homepage, which relatively quickly led me to the California Department of Education’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) system, a tool that allows you to search at different levels (county, district, school), by subgroup, and view or download tables of information. Both mean scale scores and the percentage of students at each proficiency level are reported. What’s problematic is that to compare subgroups or years, you have to create separate reports for each category you want to compare (e.g., first request 2006 data, then request 2007 data, then compare on your own); the tool would be immensely more powerful if it allowed you to select two or more subgroups or years for comparison. Summary tables comparing different subgroups and different years are available with the 2007 press release, but only for some kinds of data (proficiency statistics are compared but not scale scores, for example).


Screenshot of Denver's survey tool
Screenshot of Denver's survey tool

Also of interest in LA is a site that lets the public search – by zip code, project number, or using an interactive map – for fact sheets on new school construction and maintenance of existing buildings. Finally, LA provides a search tool for crime statistics for the last several years by school, although unfortunately you can only search one school at a time, which makes comparisons difficult.

From California, I crossed the Rockies to Denver, a much smaller district but home to a merit pay experiment that has captured the nation’s attention. Denver provides a tool for finding reports from school satisfaction surveys, which allows you to pull up information at the school or district level and sorted by subgroups, but like California’s STAR system, to create comparison tables, each subgroup must be pulled up one at a time, then integrated on your own.

School performance data in Denver seems to be all in the form of PDF files, with search functions available only to school and district employees. The state of Colorado provides test score summaries and disaggregated data in both PDF and Excel formats.

From Colorado, southeast to Houston, where the “Texas Miracle” occurred and then was cast into doubt. Houston’s Department of Research and Accountability includes lots of PDF files presenting information about student TAKS scores, but no tools for navigating the data on one’s own. The Texas Education Association provides statewide summaries and other information as PDF files.

Screenshot of Houston's Department of Research and Accountability.
Screenshot of Houston's Department of Research and Accountability.

That’s it for today – I encourage you to visit these sites, get a sense of what you like and don’t like, and leave comments below.  Tomorrow, I head east…