Schools being schools, there’s no shortage of measurements to track their progress and quality. Actually finding useful information in that sea of data? That’s something else entirely.
Tomorrow, Excellent Schools Detroit will roll out the result of two years of work – a comprehensive, easy-to-understand guide for parents seeking the best possible information on their educational options for their children. The Excellent Schools Detroit Scorecard will be “actionable information,” said the group’s chief executive officer, Dan Varner, “the single best place for parents to go to get apples-to-apples data around education in Detroit,” including traditional public, charter, private and parochial schools, 204 in all. The list will also include some suburban schools that have targeted Detroit students for special programs in other districts.
Expect surprises, Varner said at a roundtable briefing before the report’s release on Aug. 7.
Some schools, run by established charter companies, will receive F grades, due to their refusal to participate in the Excellent Schools Detroit assessment process. Varner called these non-participants “reprehensible.”
“They’re taking public money,” he said. “They should be accountable.”
Schools won’t be ranked purely by state performance data. The rankings also used the “Detroit 5Essentials” survey, conducted by the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, which polled teachers and students on “five essential competencies” for improvement – effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment and ambitious instruction.
There were also community site reviews, conducted by 264 volunteers. Those individuals evaluated schools based on appearance, apparently physical soundness and other factors, including the surrounding neighborhood, for children walk to school.
“We had one building that really disturbed me,” said Bernita Bradley, who led one evaluation team. The school was in a good neighborhood, and is generally sought-after by parents, but “radiators were leaking in the classrooms. One teacher had two (insubordinate) boys in her class whose job was dumping water from the leaking radiator. And some schools were in terrible areas, but are treated as prized possessions. Everything is immaculate, and you can really feel the difference.”
Some parents won’t be bothered by things like leaky radiators, Bradley said. But they deserve to know about it.
Schools will be rated on a letter-grade basis, Varner said, and Excellent Schools Detroit will recommend parents seek out schools only at a C-plus or above. That will only be about one-quarter of the whole. The group intends the ratings to be tough but fair.
“An A school on this list will be an A school anywhere, not just Detroit. We want families to fill the seats in the highest-quality seats we have, and we want the lowest-quality schools to suffer financially,” Varner said.
There will be separate classifications for new and “fresh start” schools, like those in the Educational Achievement Authority, which are in the midst of a turnaround process. EAA schools, and those that opened since 2009, may qualify for a thumbs-up grade, meaning evaluators felt they were headed in the right direction, but still too new for a letter grade. Those ranked "promising" are also recommended by Excellent Schools Detroit.
While the first report may appear after the date when most parents have chosen a school for their children, Varner said the report, once posted, would be regularly updated. A separate scorecard for early learning programs is coming later this year.
Excellent Schools Detroit is funded mainly by foundations and has a 90/90/90 mission – to see 90 percent of students graduate from high school, go on to post-secondary education and succeed without remediation.
The scorecard will be available at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 7 at the Excellent Schools Detroit website.