Web Site Helps Parents Shop For A School

November 28, 2000

Arizona has more charter schools than any other state in the nation. With so many options, selecting a school can be difficult.

A new Web site is trying to make it easier for parents to do one-stop shopping for a school that’s right for their family. The Web site includes information about a school’s test scores, report cards from the state and the experience level of teachers.

Viewers can search for information by selecting a school name, district or city. The service, Greatschools.net, is free and void of advertisements.
When Sandy McCauley was looking for a new middle school for her son, she logged onto Greatschools.net.

She wanted to find a school with more experienced teachers, but she also wanted to stay in the Kyrene School District. She has since enrolled her son at another Kyrene middle school.

“This is like a dream come true to have all this information in one place,” she said.
Bill Jackson, president of Greatschools, said that initially the site started as a community service project sponsored by major computer corporations in the Silicon Valley. The idea was to show people the benefits a community can reap from using the Internet.

The organization began posting information about schools in the Silicon Valley in 1998 before moving statewide in 1999. The non-profit organization is funded by organizations such as the Pisces Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Stuart Foundation and the New Schools Venture Fund.

Jackson said that the mission of Greatschools is to get parents to become smarter consumers. Over the next few years, Jackson said he hopes that the site can include school profiles in all 50 states.

“The idea is to create a kind of Consumer Reports for schools with a twist,” he said. The organization has enlisted the help of such sources as a real estate agent, charter school administrators, the Arizona Department of Education, the head of the Arizona Education Association and a representative from the Center for Market-Based Education.

In Arizona, much of the information used comes from the state Department of Education. It’s up to each individual principal to create and update a more detailed school profile.

Joe O’Reilly, Mesa Public Schools’ testing director and member of Greatschools advisory board, said that all principals in Mesa were informed of the Web site.
O’Reilly said he believes that Greatschools can help parents narrow the list of schools they’d like their children to attend.

O’Reilly said that Greatschools was given AIMS test scores before districts received the results, an example, he said, of how the site can be used as a resource. “I think having accurate information for parents is a very good idea and very important,” he said.