Choosing a school just got easier

Parents trying to decide which DCPS or charter school is the best fit for their child have faced a confusing array of data. But a newly launched website will give them easy access to information about which schools draw kids from their neighborhood, and more.

Image courtesy of Code for DC

The Open Schools website, created by a volunteer project called Code for DC, went live earlier this week. The site creates interactive maps based on data from DC's Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Parents can choose a school and see which neighborhoods its students come from.

Open Schools' school display
If they choose a neighborhood, they can instead see which schools the children who live there attend.

Open Schools' neighborhood display

Over the next several months, Code for DC will add other data and functionality to Open Schools. Potential features include:

  • Test scores and other measures of a school's effectiveness over time
  • The middle school that kids from a given elementary school attend
  • The high school that kids from a given middle school attend
  • Lists of schools with special programs in music, athletics, etc.
  • The DCPS schools that are seeing more in-boundary students enroll over time (a measure of which schools are gaining the trust of their local communities)
Much of this is data parents haven't had easy access to before. DCPS provides information about school test scores, demographics, and special programs, but parents haven't been able to compare schools easily. Instead they're confronted by a list of links to 238 schools and tables of data without context.

The Public Charter School Board and DCPS websites do allow parents to compare demographic and other information for up to 4 schools at a time, but they don't provide easily accessible information about which neighborhoods a school draws its students from.

Open Schools' interactive visual interface will offer parents context for test scores and display the choices other parents have made based on that data and other factors. Some of the information provided by the website, such as the number of neighborhood children attending a school, may be more important to a child's social comfort than general demographic information.

Code for DC is the local branch of a nationwide effort called Code for America. The organization links programmers, public policy experts, statisticians, and others to provide tools for the public to make better use of government data and services. Teams work in communities around the country, using technology to build the digital public square.

Open Schools project leader Harlan Harris said that the group started research in the fall of 2012. When OSSE released new data this spring showing how students commute across the city to school, Harris said, "that gave us the ability to start to build something immediately interesting and useful to parents."

In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I am a member of Code for DC and worked on the Open Schools project—though the lion's share of the credit belongs to Harlan Harris, Sandra Moscoso-Mills (a fellow Greater Greater Education contributor), Ross Karchner, Sam Leitner, and many others.

Rahul Mereand-Sinha was born in DC and grew up nearby in Bethesda. He now lives in Kalorama Triangle with his wife Katherine. He has a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Maryland and moonlights as a macroeconomist. 


Rahul, nice job with this website. Very interesting. In its current iteration the site is less an aid to choosing schools (unless you choose a school on the basis of who else attends) than a descriptor of how geographically diverse the study body is. I think the point is that this is a platform and as more data are added, users will be able to visualize school data in a way that helps with school shopping.

One minor correction: where it has tabs for schools by sector, the tab labels are "charter" and "public", but charters are a subset of public schools. I think you mean to say "charter" and "district" (or "DCPS" or "traditional"). They are all public schools.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 27, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

Sounds interesting. I will definitely check this out. However, I am still waiting for the post title "Getting into schools just got easier." Maybe if there really is a common application for charters next year...

by Lisa R on Sep 27, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy: re: public vs district, that's a good point, though I think that's sort of how common usage is describing the difference. Still, I'll file that one away.

I do think the worry of socially isolated children limits the popularity of charters (and out-of-boundary district schools); it doesn't eliminate demand for them, but more parents would feel comfortable trying these options if they knew their children would have friends nearby.

Still, as you said, this is a platform will have a lot more information over time.

by Rahul Mereand-Sinha on Sep 27, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

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