Come one, come all and show us your school pride

Part 1 in a series: Gathering community insights about schools

Parents considering new schools for their children examine many factors and while specific priorities may vary, there is one thing families consistently tell us. When it comes to assessing schools, they value objective facts as well as the subjective opinions of others.

At GreatSchools, we gather facts and opinions and present them in an accessible fashion so parents can feel confident in their decisions about their children’s education. It’s no small task. With 130,000 K-12 schools nationally, providing a rich profile of each school means gathering information from multiple sources. Getting input from the millions of parents, teachers, administrators and students who visit our site each month plays a big part. You are the ones who know your school best.

Here are three ways you can help ensure that we’re providing an even fuller picture of your school on GreatSchools:

Write a Review: More than a million people have posted a review about their school on GreatSchools. Keep them coming! Reading first-hand perspectives is illuminating. New families, especially those who are relocating and may not know people in their new community, read reviews to get the inside scoop on a school.

To get the 2013-2014 year off to a great start, we’re running a Back-to-School Sweepstakes. Schools with at least 3 new reviews in a calendar month are eligible to win $5,000. Best of all, there are 3 chances to win with monthly drawings in August, September and October.

See official rules and enter here >>

 Answer a School Questionnaire: We’ve just rolled out a *new* online questionnaire aimed at those of you who know a school directly. When you visit a school profile that doesn’t have any information provided by a verified school leader, you will be prompted to answer a few questions, for example whether your school has specific programs, extracurricular activities or extended care. There are nine questions. So it only takes a minute or two to share what you know.

Register as a School Official: Principals and other verified school leaders, you can edit the information that is displayed about your school. Sign up today and tell the story of your school. It’s a simple and free way to showcase your school’s unique qualities. Your Official School Profile allows you to add details about programs, services, extracurricular activities and more. Principals can also use this feature to respond to reviews that are posted, and provide a “Principal’s point of view.”

Consider this an open invitation. Come one, come all. Show us your school pride!

Evolution of the GreatSchools Rating

Since its inception back in 2006, the GreatSchools Rating has helped millions of parents evaluate their neighborhood schools, make clear and simple comparisons, and find a great school for their child. In a world of dizzying education data, the GreatSchools Rating offers an easy-to-understand measure of overall test score performance. The value of the rating is its simplicity and scale; the 1-to-10 rating is straightforward, while maintaining methodological integrity and scalability.

However, we know that parents care about more than test scores alone, so we’ve begun to test ways to include multiple measures of school quality in the GreatSchools Rating. Just as a doctor wouldn’t give a patient a clean bill of health based on blood pressure alone, it is important to evaluate various factors of a school’s overall performance. Here are a few concepts we’re beginning to test with an eye toward scaling the innovations that look most promising:
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Introducing our new school profiles

While measures of a school’s academic performance (such as test scores) are important, we know from experience that parents crave a far broader perspective on the schools they’re considering. In response, we at GreatSchools have enhanced our school profiles by collecting and providing details on school culture, climate, and programs. And, we’ve made this information available to readers in a simpler, more comprehensible format.

“School Profiles” have always been the core of the GreatSchools mission, and with the roll out of our new profile design, we have already begun to see parents spending more time on the site, viewing more pages, and considering more options than ever before. We’ve created a new feature that allows representatives of schools and organizations to contribute to their schools’ profile and provide details about their institution’s strengths and unique programs. If you are a school leader or influence school leaders, we’d appreciate you passing information about this feature along so we can keep improving our school profiles.
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Proof of impact

A Stanford study finds that GreatSchools Local has a real impact on how parents of elementary age kids choose schools

For the past five years, GreatSchools has been operating local programs in select cities to help parents who might not otherwise have access to resources and knowhow find the right schools for their children. As we have collected feedback that parents appreciate and use our services, our local offices have expanded and evolved. Milwaukee’s office opened in November 2007 followed by ones in Washington, DC in 2009 and Indianapolis in 2011. All three communities have open enrollment, abundant charter options, and voucher programs for low-income families. We reach predominantly low-income families. In 2011-12, 60% of families we served in Washington, DC and 70% in Milwaukee, WI were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Yet without a well-designed rigorous study conducted by a neutral party, it’s been difficult to measure the impact of our programs. This fall, with the preliminary release of findings from a randomized control trial (RCT) conducted through Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA), we can finally point to strong evidence that GreatSchools Local is influencing parents to choose higher performing schools.
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GreatSchools Takes Silver at Gates-Facebook Hackathon

GreatSchools recently participated in and won 2nd place at HackEd, an inspiring 1-day education “hackathon” sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, CA.  College Summit and King Center Charter School co-sponsored the event.

The goal of the hackathon was to encourage developers, education experts, and nonprofits to prototype Facebook apps that help low-income and first-generation students get into and graduate from college.  HackEd was also the official kickoff for the College Knowledge Challenge, a broader challenge issued by the Gates Foundation with 30 more prizes totaling $2.5M.

More than 150 people attended HackEd, including representatives from organizations such as iMentor, 4.0 Schools, EverFiMytonomy, Unigo, and more.
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Giving parents more and better information about schools

Reaching nearly half of all American K-12 households, GreatSchools is the leading source of information about schools for parents nationally. For more than a decade, we’ve published data to help families understand how schools are performing academically and we’ve coupled that with an unparalleled collection of community ratings and reviews – more than one million at last count.

While our ratings and reviews are one of the best ways to learn about a school, we know that parents must also look beyond the numbers in order to fairly assess whether a particular school will be a good fit for their child and family. They need reliable information about a school’s programs, culture, and unique features – information that is hard to come by at scale.
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