The news that Baltimore City Public School students made a fifth consecutive year of gains on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) is evidence of many things: that continued progress in public education is possible; that our children can and will succeed given the opportunity; and that we still have a far, far way to go before every student is afforded the high-quality education they need and deserve.
It is also evidence of the power of evidence.
We know progress is being made because we can see it.
Despite some very real concerns about the MSA, it provides us with:
- Standards of performance for grades 3-8 in reading and in math;
- Annual data demonstrating the degree to which students in individual schools and entire districts meet these standards;
- Disaggregated data showing us how students grouped by gender, race/ethnicity and income are doing when compared to their peers; and
- Trends on all of the above, giving us a sense of change over time.
These data – and other indicators tracking teacher quality and student behavior – are publicly available on line, anytime at http://mdreportcard.org/.
This public reporting system alone does not begin to account for the progress we see. There are other, essential elements to reform. But it is hard to imagine that the gains of the last five years would have been possible without it.
So what if the same level of transparency was employed by other public child and family serving agencies? Would it bring focus, energy and urgency to these systems as well? For example:
What if there was an annual child welfare report card with publicly available trend data by jurisdiction (and maybe even by foster or group home) demonstrating:
- How safe children are when they have been removed from their homes?
- How long it takes to find or return them to permanent families?
- How they are doing at school and in getting the health and mental health care they need?
What if we knew — from year to year, across Maryland’s jurisdictions, and also by facility — how the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) and its contractors were doing in:
- Ensuring that young people move forward with education and training during their time with DJS?
- Preventing further incidents, arrests and detention of juveniles after their first contact with the system?
What if we understood the effectiveness of our workforce development system in terms of:
- The percentage of clients who found employment after their initial contact?
- The net change in wage for these citizens?
CitiStat and StateStat have made important strides in bringing performance measurement to public agencies. Other federal and state mandates require that some of these data be collected. Yet, much of this information is buried deep in spreadsheets or annual management reports. Little is publicly presented with year to year trends and appropriate comparisons.
So here’s my audacious idea for a hot summer day: in order to accelerate further progress, let the sun shine bright on public systems and their ability to improve the lives of the citizens they serve. Bare it and share it.