Adapted from an article that originally appeared in Thrust for Educational Leadership, May-June 2000.
Better Accountability through Technology
What can school administrators do with technology to demonstrate their accountability to the public?
What Others Are Saying
Just to identify what was available, I searched for school evaluation services on the 'net. The Internet is a marvelous, constantly changing cyberscape, so there may be more sources than these. Here's what I found:
This site is sponsored by the Alameda County Office of Education, California Department of Education, EdSource, and Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). It provides information on schools statewide, but lacks some detail that other services do provide. The information is free.
Sponsored by several high-profile technology companies and charitable foundations, the non-profit GreatSchools.net provides free reports about California schools. Beyond a base of information derived from CDE data, GreatSchools.net allows individual schools and districts to add their own information.
SchoolMatch ranks schools nationally, but doesn't do a great job comparing schools with those in surrounding communities. Reports are $10 to $97.50, depending on scope and order method.
The School Profile service of 2001beyond.com relies on business sponsorship to provide free information about schools. Their reports do not cover individual schools, but rather identify districtwide policies and demographic information. The reports are free, but require you to divulge significant personal information, which may be sold to other businesses.
This nationwide information service is similar to 2001beyond.com, including free reports, lack of data about individual schools, and privacy questions.
Starting with CDE data, School Wise Press augments information on California schools with additional material. Basic reports online are free, but a more comprehensive report can be had for $6.
School Accountability Report Card
State law (Education Code §35258) encourages school districts with a connection to the Internet (read: Web site) to publish their school accountability report cards online. You can read the Ed Code section yourself by going to LegInfo, checking "Education Code" and searching for "accountability" and "Internet." Even without the encouragement of law, Web publication of such a central document would be a good idea... Whose evaluation of your schools would you rather the public studied, an outsider's, or yours?
Feedback via the Web
Your school accountability report card is a good start; but what parents and other members of your community want to see is a way to ask questions and make comments. Your school Web site should make this easy two ways: email links from a staff directory (which should be available in at least three formats: alphabetical, functional, and hierarchical), and a comment form. The comment form should be accessible from every page of your Web site (see ACSA Online's Feedback form for an example). Finally, commentators who request a response should be answered promptly.
Regardless of the contents of your school's or district's report card, the ability to control the spin on your achievements is critical. And since so many other groups purport to be able to provide detailed information on schools across California, it would be foolish to allow them to exclusively represent your school, online or in any other medium. On the other hand, an indispensable element of accountability is allowing the public to make their voices heard -- having an online forum can provide big gains in your credibility.
Buzzword or no, the public is demanding accountability. You can use technology to facilitate the public's understanding, or you can be used by technology.
Marc Elliot Hall is ACSA's Webmaster. He's accountable to you at (916)444-3216 or via e-mail.
Copyright 2000, Marc Elliot Hall, DBA Sensation! Services