Don’t leave parents in dark on how schools are doing

Students listen to teacher Lindsay Goettsch read at Sacramento’s Howe Avenue Elementary, where only 7 percent of students met state standards in math and 9 percent in English.
Students listen to teacher Lindsay Goettsch read at Sacramento’s Howe Avenue Elementary, where only 7 percent of students met state standards in math and 9 percent in English.

What if we considered your neighborhood school “good” even if some groups of students weren’t learning? What if a school could fail its students of color and low-income students year after year, decade after decade, with no consequences? What if parents and the community had to dig through mountains of data to try to understand if their neighborhood school is serving kids well?

We know what would happen, because we’ve seen it already. In the era before school accountability systems and reliable evidence, parents had to trust word of mouth to decide which schools would best serve their children. The lack of transparency also left educators without information to act on.

As California’s State Board of Education meets Thursday to debate eliminating its Academic Performance Index, it must replace it with an equal, simple measurement that gives the public a clear-cut way to evaluate school performance. California and other states should also consider at-a-glance measures for school and district performance so the public can track how their neighborhood schools are performing.

We’ve seen progress through this type of data, shining a light on schools that excel in supporting black, brown and poor students and also telling us where achievement gaps persist. These efforts helped put equity at the heart of the education discussion.

Now it’s important that we continue to identify the schools and districts that make progress serving underperforming students so we can spread best practices. It’s equally important to determine which schools and districts are unable to assist these students and provide the needed resources and intervention to help them improve.

We should not turn back now. California has already begun to redesign its accountability systems, and other states will soon follow.

It’s true that it’s our teachers and parents – not accountability systems – who ultimately close achievement and opportunity gaps. However, it’s strong accountability systems that signal what’s important and what’s working. We need to make sure that what’s measured still matters.

We agree that what’s often characterized as “test and punish” must transform into a real system to support and improve. Yet we certainly can’t go back to the days of “ignore and neglect.”

Both of us know firsthand the power of parents. As sons of single mothers, we witnessed them sacrifice everything to guarantee we received the best education possible. This influenced our future work as we launched the Parent College, which has helped empower thousands of parents in East and South Los Angeles, giving them the tools and information to advocate for their children from kindergarten through college. Through these experiences, we know that working parents want quick facts to determine what’s best for their children.

Our students, parents and communities deserve clear data to know how our schools are performing. Parents shouldn’t have to be experts to see how their schools are doing. Teachers shouldn’t have to guess whether underserved students are progressing under their watch. Working together, we can provide all students the best opportunity for success – but only if we know where to go to see how our schools are doing.

Antonio Villaraigosa is former mayor of Los Angeles. Ryan J. Smith is executive director of Ed Trust West, a nonprofit advocacy group.