Monday, February 27, 2012

Rice Reader: Ed Yau and Sage

Responding to a call for personal stories about school at my K2twelve blog, Ed Yau wrote me about the challenges he faced getting his son into a Pre-K in New York City. Sage, the app that resulted from his tackling the difficult process of placing his son in a public Pre-K program is the running for NYC Big Apps 3.0. Click Here to vote for it.

Guest Post: “Sage” by Edward Yau

It still blows my mind that my 3-yr old son is ready for Pre-K in the Fall, but the reality was even more stark when it came time to figure out how to actually get him into a school. I started this research process with nothing more than a few vague notions from friends and family. The fact was I knew absolutely nothing!

I hit a wall as soon as I started. The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) website is jammed pack with information and I didn't even know where to begin. Since I wasn't familiar with the terminology, it took me awhile to even figure out how to find the school I was 'zoned' for. After reading up on eligibility and following the recommendation that we visit at least several schools, I came up with a list of schools that are geographically convenient to our apartment. However, it was clear that we couldn't just tour every single one of them. So I painstakingly started downloading school progress reports and putting together spreadsheets in order to somehow narrow the list down. Once it was time to tour some schools, I found myself printing out the school information I had compiled before visiting, just to remind myself what I had thought and to come up with questions to ask.

I got tired of the cumbersome process and decided to use my geek powers to build a mobile website called Sage (See: http://bit.ly/zOe9Sc). I figured I couldn't be the only one suffering through this research process, so I designed and built Sage as a tool to help parents quickly find the schools that they are zoned for or close to. School performance data is neatly presented. Sage could be used by parents searching for schools as well as those looking to monitor their school.

Even though Sage helps you find a school's performance easily, it's important to remember that the letter grades given by the NYCDOE need to be taken with a grain of salt. The worst part is that these letter grades are highly political and no one seems to want to talk about them. I had to grill at least three educators before I could get a straight answer about what they mean. Statistics can be massaged until you get the answer you want and the NYCDOE includes many subjective factors when they come up with the letter grades. Whether or not it's fair, schools that improve year over year are given a lot of credit, which means their overall grade may not reflect how the students are actually doing. I found that the best thing to do is to compare the letter grades against the actual state test results, that way you can gain a little more insight on what's behind them.

Letter grades and test scores offer useful information about school, but there is no replacement for attending a tour and getting to know the people that run it. There is much more to a school than its test score.

More about Sage:

Sage (http://nysage.com): Check out http://bit.ly/zOe9Sc for a brief video and description. It’s been submitted into the 2012 NYC Big Apps competition, so please check it out and cast a vote starting on before March 9th! There are very few apps for parents on the competition, so it's important that the tech community knows that we have a voice. You can use it on your Android or iPhone device, but it will also work on Chrome and Safari on your desktop.

Here the resources that I found myself using the most:

NYC Department of Education: Obviously you’ve got to start at the source of it all!
http://schools.nyc.gov/

Inside Schools: The best resource guide for schools. Provides reviews, parent comments and more. A must see.
http://insideschools.org/

School Book: By the New York Times. Another awesome resource for finding school information. Lots of stats, charts, graphs, articles etc. Another must see. http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook

Demystifying Pre-K Enrollment in NYC: An insightful look into one mom’s experience getting her child into Pre-K.
http://momconfessionals.com/2010/03/demystifying-pre-k-enrollment-in-nyc

I wrote up my search in bloody detail here:
http://art.guessyourbaby.com/general/school/

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