As part of its efforts to devise a plan to improve the student assignment system, the External Advisory Committee created a definition of what constitutes a quality school. This is important as the EAC wants to ensure that any plan selected will provide children with equitable access to quality. Of course, there's no way to know whether access to quality is equitable if we don't know which schools are of high or low quality.
Furthermore, the EAC is now considering plans that would group schools or zones in a way that would provide equal access to quality. Again, it is not possible to do this if we can't measure quality in schools.
Here is the definition of quality developed by the EAC:
Acknowledging that quality varies for each individual, the EAC Defining Quality and Equitable Access Subcommittee - with its members’ expertise, community feedback, and BPS research on quality - has drafted the following preliminary definition of a quality school to include:
- Academic excellence and student academic growth in all grades, across all subgroups of race, ethnicity, English Language Learners and students with disabilities
- Principal effectiveness and teacher excellence with caring teachers and school staff
- Parent engagement and a sense of community within and outside of the school
- Effective community partnerships
- Focus on the development of the whole child and the needs of all learners, though arts, music, athletics, and program and course offerings
- Safe and positive school climate including social and emotional support
- Adequate and appropriate facilities
- As close to home as possible
So now comes the difficult part. How do we measure these factors? Academic excellence can be measured using MCAS scores. It's certainly not a perfect way to measure academics, but it's objective and it's available for all schools. After that, it gets more difficult. Teacher evaluations have not been done consistently. For safety, there's some crime data available, but not enough to compare schools.
Many of these factors could be measured with data from the School Climate Survey. This survey is filled out annually by teachers, parents, and students. The EAC considered using data from this survey, but they ran into a serious problem. Return rates for the survey vary considerably from school to school. This is especially true for the parent survey where some schools have a return rate over 50% and others have a 0% rate. Low rates essentially make the data unusable because it's impossible to know if the responses are representative of the entire school community.
Unfortunately, the school choice improvement process is going on without this information, and it's probably too late to do anything about that. But hopefully more data will be available in the future.
Massachusetts law and the new teachers' contract both call for annual teacher evaluations. So going forward, we should have a way to measure teacher effectiveness.
And BPS is hoping to increase the response rates for the school climate survey. One way to do this is simple, just tie some small amount of each school's funding to their response rate. This is the case with applications for lunch subsidies. Schools work hard to get those applications back, even from families that won't qualify because some of their funding is tied to the number returned.
Another way to get surveys back would be to give kids an incentive to get their parents to fill them out. Several years ago the Hurley School conducted a survey of parents. They bought several very cheap toys (probably from Oriental Trading) and kept them in the office. Any kid who brought in a completed survey got to choose one of the prizes. Other kids saw their friends with them and harassed their parents until the survey was completed. I can't remember what the final response was, but it was quite good.
For enrichment programs, BPS could develop a measure based on number of programs available, number of children served, and time spent on enrichment each week.
What are your ideas for measuring quality?