School Checker expands your power on schools

Updated 10/31/2013 6:18 AM

Information, it is said, is power, and in that vein, today we're giving you a profound boost toward control of your local schools.

The annual School Report Card, as our front-page stories today explain, is a diverse set of measures combining data from a variety of school, census and local government sources. The primary intent of the report is to tell you how well your local schools are doing compared to the norms of the state as well as to independent standards established by federal educational authorities. Although the public has clamored for this kind of data for years, the collection and presentation have always been controversial, and it can be no mean feat even for an educator, not to mention a parent, student or other lay citizen, to comprehend just what the results mean. As the process transitions to a new system of measurement known as Common Core standards, new controversies and new complications are emerging.

Where you stand on the controversy can depend on your own political and social bent, and we report regularly on the nature of the Common Core approach, the support and opposition it attracts and its integration into local schools. But whatever your stance on the politics of Common Core, you still need to be able to navigate the complications of the report cards and understand just what all this data says.

That job doesn't have to end with the stories we carry in today's editions. And, thanks particularly to the technical insight and determination of Daily Herald Presentation Editor Tim Broderick, it's really just beginning. With Daily Herald School Checker, the digital research tool Broderick created with the help of the Daily Herald's Mark Stallings, manager of digital operations, you can easily monitor a wealth of information about everything from a given school's budgets to its demographic makeup to, of course, its students' performance on state-mandated tests.

"We designed this tool to be useful over the course of an entire year," Tim said in a memo to the staff. And by "useful," he means not just to Daily Herald reporters, but to teachers, parents, school officials and anyone else interested in the quality and conduct of local schools.

The Daily Herald School Checker can be found at reportcards.dailyherald.comand is referenced in various places in our stories today. But we also intend to consistently link the research tool to stories we produce throughout the year on school issues, whether they be broad educational topics involving the quality of schools in general -- including debates over Common Core expectations -- or specific accounts of events or decisions involving one particular school.

In creating this project, Tim applied his training as a journalist, his two and a half decades' experience as a graphic artist and editor at the Daily Herald and his innate interest in schools, information technology and the unique appeal of graphic story telling. The result is a tool that manages not just to provide a mass of telling data but also to allow you to manipulate all that information to answer your own personal questions about your child's school or your local school district.

Navigating the school report card information always has been a daunting challenge. However well-intended, the sheer weight and volume of information can seem overwhelming and intimidating. But the Daily Herald School Checker helps make it simpler and more insightful than ever, putting you in control of what you want to know about your local schools.

In short, it gives you access to the power of information. Now, it's up to you to put it to use.

Jim Slusher,, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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