Everyone, it seems, is a fan of transparency these days. Still, making key education data available is more rhetoric than reality.  Recommendations from a new report could help.

The first of four reports was released last week as part of the Brookings Institution’s new project called Rethinking the Federal Role in Education. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice sponsored the Choice and Competition task force that produced the report, Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education. It finds that:

…school choice should be a democratic process that benefits from the informed participation of parents. Our recommendations are suitable to a range of schooling designs, from a school district in which there are no choices other than district-run public schools, to a system of charter schools, to a division of courses between traditional and virtual schools, to a voucher-based open market in which all providers are on an equal footing, and to many variations in between. (See pp. 3-4)

However, parents are getting little meaningful information to make good choices today.

Brookings experts describe the status quo as “the fox guarding the henhouse problem.” (See pp. 8, 25-27) Under the current system, school districts are “self-interested” “gatekeepers” of information. Some “hoard” information parents need and sometimes withhold timely information in violation of state and federal law. What information is available is oftentimes incomprehensible. (See pp. 20-22)

One solution is a “Choice and Competition Index.” (See pp. 19-20) overseen by the federal government or other disinterested entity. The index would be a web-based tool for every American school district that would allow parents, educators, policy makers, and the public to compare school districts based on how much choice and competition they provide. It would contain information on how much choice is available, what kind of choices are available, and how easily is choice can be exercised. Such a resource, say the report authors, would “draw the spotlight on districts that are both providing great choice and have a competitive milieu as well as districts where the choice either doesn’t exist or is nominal rather than functional choice.” (See pp. 19-20 here and p. 34 here). A similar resource for college students and their parents already exists. There’s no good reason such a resource shouldn’t exist for elementary and secondary school students and parents, too.