The Equity Index and its future

As someone trained in policy and data interpretation, I’m excited about the recently released New Orleans Education Equity Index. The index data was compiled by several local organizations, and led by the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) and the Orleans Public Education Network (OPEN).  The index uses data indicators such as teacher experience, student expenditures, transportation, and suspensions to bring together data that will help community organizations and leaders construct a narrative on how to improve education equity in our city.  It is a useful tool to continue the dialogue on what it means to make education more equitable, such as spending more money on each student, providing busing, ensuring a supportive school climate, and offering non-English-speaking parents translation.

A recent article about the Equity Index suggested when parents in New Orleans are deciding where to send their child to school, the index might be useful for them. I agree if I were a parent, I would be enthusiastic about the index and its ease of accessing important information, especially the school-to-school comparison.  And yet, I also see reviewing the information takes time; it’s a real commitment to sort through, process the information, and decide what it really means.  This is where it gets tricky. Again, I’m trained to look at data and pull the threads of information together to reach a conclusion, and it’s still not exactly a piece of cake for me.  So if the underlying goal is to help parents make better decisions about where to send their kids, how do we make sure that can happen? Even more, how do we reach the most vulnerable populations and those who need the information most?

An index is a useful tool if you have a college degree, are digitally literate, and have some experience with data. But knowing this is not true for many of our New Orleans parents, the next step must be making the information more easily accessible.  I am looking forward to learning more about how the organizational partners are planning to do just that. I worked in development for two years in Cameroon, Africa, and I sometimes saw NGOs build infrastructure that could not be supported by the communities. For example, an organization built a well to access water but never trained anyone to repair it if it broke. Another organization established a clinic but the town didn’t have a doctor. The Equity Index is also a type of infrastructure, and it will need to be supported.  I’m looking forward to learning more about how the organizational partners in New Orleans will ensure that support. If that support is provided, the Equity Index will have a bright future.

Additionally, I’m looking forward to the ways the index might strengthen and expand with more data accountability. A common complaint of advocates is that they cannot trust the data. I’ve heard stories from teachers who tell me point-blank they send kids home without ever filling out suspension paperwork. Schools self-report and the Louisiana Department of Education does not currently have a process of checking the accuracy of the data. The Equity Index provides another strong incentive as well as leverage for organizational and community leaders to push for policy changes that ensure more accurate data.

There is definitely value to the new Equity Index. It sends a clear message to schools and policymakers that our organizational partners and community leaders are paying attention, and they care about educational equity. It also provides a level of transparency that is needed to build trust between the community, schools, and policymakers. The more access to data we have, the more communities can be engaged and advocate for changes that benefit our children and education system. However, it is also clear the future and value of the index will depend on how we might strengthen the reliability of the data and how skillfully we are able to disseminate it to those who need it most.

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