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How good is your school?

A bunch of different organizations have come together to produce this site, where you can plug in the school you went to, the school your child goes to or any other school, and compare its graduation rates and the school district's test scores to those of nearby peers.

It's a neat idea, though I worry the information will be actively harmful in some cases. There are plenty of schools that do a good job serving a tough population and thus have low graduation rates even though your kid would get a fine education there. But since this site delivers raw numbers rather than some sort of standardized performance measure, the result could be to convince middle-class parents to send their kids to private schools, thus making the graduation rates of nearby public schools look even worse and driving more middle-class families away. That wouldn't be good at all.

By Ezra Klein  | October 18, 2010; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  Education  
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The information will be even more harmful where it's essentially inaccurate. From the wesbite:

"Each state calculates graduation rates differently. For example, a New York high school and a Florida high school might both report a graduation rate of 95%, but the states may not be considering the same factors in their calculations. This discrepancy means that state-reported graduation rates cannot be compared to one another. However, national graduation calculations, such as the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) and the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), allow us to compare graduation rates across states. See the map of the United States below to learn more."

Readers need to take into account Ezra's concerns, but only after they make sure they're looking at some kind of standardized measure like the CPI. Also, the map funtion doesn't work well; it shows my local school in a completely different part of the city.

Nice idea, but it needs to be done with care.

Posted by: spekny | October 18, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Great points, Ezra.

What we need is a simple "value added" measure for schools that assesses how much students improved.

Posted by: junomoneta88 | October 18, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Aarrgh. Whether they're a good idea or not, sites like this have been available forever. Check out, for one example. Plug in the name of your high school.

Gates and NBC and "a bunch of different organizations" seem to be inventing a well-worn wheel, while pretending to be deeply concerned and very very helpful.

By the way: I'm aware of these pre-existing sites because I have actually sought information about schools and school systems many times in the past. Very few pundits do such things, and so a service like this may seem new. Public education simply isn't an active concern in the bulk of American Pundit Land. The liberal world largely quit on this topic around 1975, Jonathan Kozol excepted.

Posted by: bobsomerby | October 18, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Interesting note: in DC where I live, at the 4th grade level the public schools (in aggregate) outscore the charter & private schools (in aggregate). In 8th grade, though, the public schools are well behind. I wonder how much of that gap is performance, and how much is due to the well-documented phenomenon in which many parents pull their children out of the DC public school system when they finish elementary school.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | October 18, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I think Ezra understates the danger of a site like this. is used ALL THE TIME by people shopping for what neighborhoods to live in based on the schools available.

The data presented on the site really couldn't be better engineered for facilitating white-flight. In one handy chart (under the test scores and stats tab) you can know exactly what percentage of the school is non-white, eligible for free and reduced lunch, or transitional bilingual.

What better way to make sure your kid doesn't have to go to school with "those kids"?

And that's ignoring the foundational problem that greatschools ratings are almost entirely based on standardized test scores. Just what we need - another way to ratchet up the pressure on teachers to teach to the test and only to the test.

Posted by: jeremyincalifornia | October 18, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

(a) not new -- someone got sold on a press release

(b) where was the note of caution regarding scores when the LA Times published ratings for individual teachers?

Posted by: alexanderrusso | October 22, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

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