UT graduate students work to make education data easier to navigate

Allyson Waller

UT graduate students are changing what K-12 public education data in Texas looks like through their new nonprofit project, the Texas School Directory.

Five UT graduate students from UT’s Education Policy and Planning Program introduced the concept for the Texas School Directory in July. The project, sponsored by the Austin Community Foundation, aggregates large data sets from federal and state agencies to give a comprehensive look at what’s happening in public schools.

Two of the students, Emily Germain and Anthony Vincent LeClair, hope the online project will receive additional funding so that they can share comprehensive data for all Texas K-12 public schools.

“As doctoral students and as former teachers … we noticed we had a whole bunch of data sitting around in every single one of (Texas’) agencies that had to do with (Texas’) schools, but nobody’s aggregated it,” LeClair said.

As of now, the site’s concept contains information on educational institutions such as Texas House District 51 and Travis Heights Elementary School. The directory includes data such as presence of bilingual school programs, teacher turnover rates and per people expenditures.

The majority of districts are moving toward the school choice model, which requires parents to be more aware of the educational options, Germain said.

“If (education is) going to go in that direction … parents need a lot more information for that to work,” Germain said. “Otherwise, they don’t know if they’re choosing a quality school or not.”

The Texas Education Agency provides numerous reports on Texas education. However, LeClair said it is cumbersome for users to go through large amounts of data.

TEA works to provide data useful to a wide variety of Texans, Lauren Callahan, TEA information specialist, said in an email.

“The information collected from public school districts and charters … fulfills many legislative purposes including providing the Commissioner of Education, TEA staff, Texas lawmakers, educators and stakeholders a better idea of the student population we serve across the state of Texas and how best to meet the educational needs of a diverse state,” Callahan said in an email.

Germain, who will soon begin looking at schools for her daughter, said the directory could help the research process for parents who are hoping to find the right school.

“In some ways I can take the time to look at each website and do all that stuff,” Germain said. “But if it were in one place, it would be much easier place to start.”