Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Formal Student Survey Programs are Costly, But Now There’s a Free, Open Source Version for Schools

September 12, 2014
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Formal Student Survey Programs are Costly, But Now There’s a Free, Open Source Version for Schools
What if teachers were graded by students. Audio-luci-store/Flickr
With the Panorama Student Survey, kids are given a voice to help their educators constantly improve.

In recent years, a lot of time, money and attention has gone towards fixing the American education system. Should there be more standardized tests? Perhaps we should change how math and English is taught? Maybe we should extend school hours?

These big-picture ideas — though well-intentioned — are missing one key component: What does the student actually think?

It’s important to listen to students’ thoughts about their schools and their teachers and use them to make improvements.

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One of the bests way to actually take note of students’ opinions is through the classic teacher evaluation — but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The problem? A comprehensive classroom evaluation costs a startling amount of money. (Making it a luxury that students in low-income districts don’t have access to.) In Toledo, Ohio, for example, a peer review program this year cost $500,000, or about $5,000 per teacher. Additionally, as the New York Times points out, teachers are currently assessed through “standardized test scores and observations by administrators, but both measures have been criticized as too narrow, unable to shed light on the complex interplay between teachers and students on a day-to-day basis.”

It’s a problem that’s needs to be fixed.

Enter Panorama Education, a Boston-based data analytics company with the mission to improve this survey experience. In the past two and a half years, the program has already being used in more than 5,000 schools in 30 states.

They startup (which was recently backed with $4 million from Mark Zuckerberg, Google Ventures, Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments, SoftTech VC and Yale University)  offers the completely free, open-source Panorama Student Survey that allows administers and teachers to gain insight on how well they are performing in areas such as teaching, learning, classroom climate, engagement, grit and sense of belonging, EdSurge writes. The tests can be taken on paper or online.

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After the survey is taken, Panorama analyzes the data and then follows up with the teachers and administrators — offering feedback about ways to improve teaching and the school.

“Our classroom surveys collect feedback that teachers use to grow, and our school surveys help educators improve their school as a whole,” the company says.

Leila Campbell, a humanities teacher at a charter high school in Oakland, Calif., discovered via the survey that her students were having difficulties connecting with her. So she decided to be more open with her class: “I do a presentation where I open up to them, making myself vulnerable about my college experience, and telling them why I’m working with them,” she tells the New York Times. “They start to get me as a human being. And they’re willing to follow me when I push them harder in history and English.”

“The surveys have been transformational in how I operate,” she adds. “I’ve grown tremendously from this data.”

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