Report cards and grades let parents measure how well their child is doing in school. But until recently, finding out how well the school itself was doing was a whole lot harder.
Now four Web sites make it a cinch to dig up data on a variety of schools - in the Bay Area, California and nationwide - by allowing parents to quickly get such information as the latest test scores, class sizes, teacher credentials, school enrollment, advanced placement and ratios such as the number of students per computer."The information was there, but it was harder to get," said John Kotko, a Redwood Shores father whose daughter is in first grade. "You'd have to rely on word of mouth or talking to school district officials, who are only going to say good things about their schools."
Kotko said the Web lets him do more than simply retrieve data on his daughter's school; it helps him determine which are the best schools and what makes them that way.
In the past, parents seeking detailed school data faced the laborious task of contacting each school or district individually, often running into resistance from school officials who tend to shy away from comparisons, education experts said.
The newest site, launched about two weeks ago, is (www.greatschools.net). Great Schools is a project of the nonprofit Silicon Valley group Smart Valley Inc. that is paid for with corporate and foundation funds. The new Web site offers complete information on 100 schools in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Free school profiles include math and reading test scores, average class size for each grade, school curriculum, teaching philosophy, technology, enrichment programs, day care, safety and a demographic breakdown.
Besides statistics, the site has miniprofiles of school programs and basic information about the California public school system.
"The more good information people have about school quality and character, the more effective they'll be in pushing for and contributing to school improvement," said Bill Jackson, Great Schools president.
By the end of November, some 300 schools will be listed, and, eventually, all 1,200 public schools in the Bay Area will be profiled, Jackson said.
Another free site, (www.ed-data.k12.ca.us), offers similar information - but for all California public schools.