Monday, October 29, 2018

What is School Transparency?

School transparency is a term all politicians, and especially school board trustees, claim to fully support!  Sadly that support too quickly becomes excuses as you ask for specific information.

For parents and most people the Dallas ISD Data Portal, online at, is a powerful step in the direction of transparency.

In the DISD Data Portal, under "Statistics and Reports," you will find "Enrollment."  It includes critical demographics by school and is updated every school day. 

In several locations in that same section, academic achievement is recorded by both test scores and the powerful School Effectiveness Indices (SEI). This DISD measurement has tracked each school's comparative excellence for over 2 decades with just one number, the SEI.  Annual Data Packets, each one over 100 pages long, are probably the largest collection of data for both the entire district and for each school.  They are archived for over a decade and available. By necessity the most recent copies of these data packets are almost a year old.

But for all involved, including parents, child advocates, and community planners, this fragmented DISD transparency is limiting.  It does not allow for the easy exploration of schools in comparison with other schools by the hundreds of variables recorded on each school. 

While the information is public, is is not in a form to allow easy comparisons. Such comparisons require the investment of hundreds of hours inserting data into spreadsheets so as to compare schools instantly on achievement, demographics, funding, or teaching staff tenure, pay, and achievements.

A step toward solving this major transparency failure was born in DISD over a year ago. It has remained unknown by most staff, and certainly the public, until this past year.  It is the "School Information File" spreadsheet that can be created within a minute by anyone. 

You find the "School Information File" under "Resources" on the Dallas ISD Data Portal.  It allows you to immediately create a spreadsheet with over 40 variables on all 266 schools and academies in Dallas ISD.  Those variables now include school identification information, demographics, location, and the most recent TEA rating information.

More columns with more variables must be added to this "School Information File" spreadsheet.  Annual copies of it should be archived as a historic record.  This large spreadsheet would provide the public with a goldmine of transparency.  They could follow their neighborhood schools as compared with all the rest of DISD!  They could easily follow both funding, progress, or decline, year to year.

If the same day that statewide test results are available by school, they were also added to the School Information File data base, the public would have a powerful and timely transparency to use in comparing student achievement in their local schools.

If the same day that the Dallas ISD School Board approves an annual budget, the funding planned for each school from that budget was inserted into the School Information Files, we would know immediately where funding is planned by school.

If the same day that the 31 PEIMS Financial Reports variables on the sources of funding for each school were finalized, they were also posted into the School Information Files, Racial Equity could be immediately validated or challenged.  Remember, demographic profiles for each school are already in the spreadsheet along with poverty levels.

Such data transparency would allow Dallas ISD to become one of the first fully data-driven district, in all areas, in the nation!  The public should demand it!

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