Parents Deserve Better than Spreadsheets!

As entrepreneurs, we at Spotlight are eager listeners to the podcast StartUp. So when this series of stories about new enterprises and their struggles to grow, survive, and thrive, announced that it would feature a different kind of “startup” – a fast-expanding network of charter schools known as Success Academy, we dove right in.

We found the series itself to be evenhanded and well-produced. Plenty of interviews and deeper fact-finding; a thoughtful treatment of an organization that has proven to be controversial – and a founder who is downright polarizing.

As we’ve written previously, Spotlight isn’t a political organization; after all, whether you hail from the right or from the left, you surely don’t have a problem with making education data transparent and useful – right? We listened to the Success Academy story with…call it objective interest.

But one moment jumped out at us: at one point in the fourth episode, a teacher is describing to a mother why her child might be held back a grade. The mother describes being shown a spreadsheet full of data; she intimates that – particularly in a moment when emotions were already running high – the data was overwhelming and confusing.

Alarm bells went off in the Spotlight office.

When students’ education is at stake; when educators and administrators are being held to high standards; when parents seek to make informed decisions on their kids’ behalf – why are we satisfied with sharing “data” – rows and columns, charts and graphs – instead of insights 

Fortunately, we see many examples of empowering educators, students, and families with insights: California’s pilot of student test score videos; New Mexico’s radically innovative school accountability reports; districts from Long Beach Unified to Chicago Public Schools providing their students with college readiness “maps” – in every case, data-infused insights are enabling key stakeholders to make thoughtful, informed decisions – which will, we believe, result in improved outcomes.