Guest Blog: Opening Up About Charter School Data

Since November 2011, I and 13 of my charter leader colleagues have been involved in a Data Transparency Project initiated by the New York City Charter School Center. This Advisory Committee, which I sit on, was open to charter leaders across New York City. The group of people that ultimately participated was as diverse as the movement itself with representatives from independent schools and CMOs. The respective schools have varying grade configurations, promote progressive, college-ready and no-excuse models, have both unionized and non-unionized faculties, are geographically located in four of the five boroughs and range from new schools to those, like mine, that have been around awhile.

The goal of the project is spelled out clearly in its title—to make data for charter schools in NYC transparent and available to all interested parties. The end projects of phase one will include a State of the Sector Report and online Data Dashboards that provide information on each of the city’s charter schools.

I joined the Committee for a few different reasons—all equally important. First, I saw this as an opportunity to have an intelligent conversation around data with smart and informed people in the movement. I can say, without reservations, that this has definitely happened. In fact, on this front, my expectations were exceeded. Second, it is vital that, as a movement now 14-years-old, we begin to set professional standards for ourselves and not wait to have rules and regulations imposed upon us. Data transparency and action plans to address the challenges that come from this data are two important steps in this process. Finally, as charters we are charged with being innovators for the system-at-large and this project is one way to push the greater educational system for more accountability, using a variety of metrics not just test scores, to tell our stories.

Now in case you think I believe this project will be free of problems, data misuse and misinterpretation, controversy or confusion, let me tell you now that I am pretty sure this project will be provocative (in a good way) and generate lots of talk, both good and bad. But to shy away from taking this bold and necessary move would be a mistake. And in fact, we hope that this is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

There’s no denying, charter schools have changed the educational landscape. NYC charter schools, in particular, are ahead of the pack in so many ways. We, therefore, have an obligation be open to examination and study. Most importantly, what I learned at the recent Charter Center Lunch & Learn featuring Richard Barth, President and CEO of KIPP Foundation, was that if we embrace our data, reflect upon what it tells us and what it doesn’t, and continue to push ahead to affect change for the students in our care, then the real end goal of the project will be realized.

I look forward to continuing the data dialogue.

Stacey Gauthier

Principal, The Renaissance Charter School