Illusion of Transparency

Last week, I was marveling at the ease with which citizens with internet access can follow the Iowa Legislature.  We don’t have to wait for newspaper coverage; we can go online and track bills, check committee and sub-committee assignment of bills, check debate calendars, listen in on floor debates in the House and Senate, and later, we can check the House and Senate Journals to see how specific legislators voted in recorded votes.

This comment thread over at A Blog About School prompted a conversation about the quality of transparency in education.  That is, while it isn’t hard to find many documents online, how much reliable and useful information can be found?  The particular comment thread involves the reliability of building capacity and enrollment numbers provided by the district; it isn’t always clear what is or is not being counted as part of the final numbers.  For example, do enrollment numbers account for all students or are some excluded, and if so, how can we know how many were uncounted and where?   Do building capacity numbers include temporary classrooms or not?

Budget information is often hard to come by.  How much money is allocated to each district program or school building?  How much money has been spent on the Iowa Core–including the initial development of the standards, professional development, compliance costs to the districts, ongoing staffing costs, costs to develop model curricula and alignment documents?

Districts do not necessarily plainly state anywhere on their websites the specific math or reading programs in use in the schools, and may just link back to the Iowa Core standards.  Proficiency data reports can be created for low-SES subgroups on the DE website, but cannot be created for the non-low-SES groups.  Sometimes data is released with the comment that it can’t be compared to any other data due to inconsistent reporting or changes in what gets counted.

It seems to me that, first, school districts, Area Education Agencies, and the Department of Education (and citizens!) ought to be concerned about whether relevant and accurate data are being collected and reported in a format that is actually useful for those who rely upon the data and reports to make decisions.  Second, I don’t see much reason that the data and reports shouldn’t be made readily available to the public online.

Are there data or reports or other documents you’d like to find online that you can’t?  Are there changes in reports or  website design that you’d like to see made to make information easier to find?  Anything you would change about data collection or reporting that you think would make the information more reliable for decision-making purposes?

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