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Editorial - Surfing the schools

June 24, 1997

Want to find out how your school system's per-pupil spending compares with other districts across the state? Or would you rather compare achievement test scores? If you live in Pennsylvania you can do both, via the Internet. It's a development that citizens interested in education and the maximum return on their tax dollars should applaud.

In announcing the new system on Monday, Pennsylvania Education Secretary Eugene Hickok said that before the state set up the home page, citizens seeking local statistics - items ranging from district finances to test scores - had to first petition the local district. If the information was refused, the next step was writing to the state education department for a copy.

Hickok didn't say this, but unless you made multiple requests, it was next to impossible to evaluate whether your own district was scoring well (or spending more) as compared to the other school districts.

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Don't have access to the Internet? Not to worry. The state is distributing 5,000 computer disks, loaded with the same information, to 600 public libraries and to all the school districts. Since there are 501 school districts, that means there should be at least plenty of disks available.

Next year the state promises even more detail, which will make it easier to do school-to-school comparisons, which will help parents interested in the state's school choice and charter school programs make intelligent decisions about where their child will fit in and learn.

We like this system for two additional reasons. There are some parents who hesitate to question school administrators because they fear retaliation against their children. This system allows such parents to dig into the data without fear.

The other and more important reason is that for years we have advocated citizen advisory boards to review government agencies' performance. Using the Internet and this homepage, citizens still serve on a review panel of sorts, even if they can't make a Monday night meeting. If you're interested in that kind of oversight, the homepage address is http://www.state.pa.us.

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