Streams

Welcome to SchoolBook: Participation Encouraged

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - 05:33 PM

SchoolBook was invented by The New York Times and WNYC, but it is your site to shape, define and grow.

Dive in. Read our posts. Check out the individual school pages. Study the data. Analyze the explanations. Consider the guides and resources. Ask a question – or answer one. Post a photo or video. Propose an idea. Share tips and advice. List notices and announcements. Send us feedback. And tell us more about your schools.

We want your conversation, but we also want your stories. We want your queries, but we also want your expertise. We want civil conversation, but we also embrace your passion. We value your opinions, but we mostly crave information, facts, experience, examples and clarifications.

Why SchoolBook? Because we were told over and over again, even within our own buildings, that the choices facing New York parents for their children’s education were daunting. Because teachers and principals and policy makers and researchers too rarely interact and share their expertise and perspective. Because we have been sitting on troves of data about schools that draw crowds every time we surface them. And because few articles set off more comments, discussion boards, e-mail threads and playground conversations than those about schools and education.

There are already vast resources on the Web about schools in New York. The city’s Department of Education site is a rich cache of statistics. Insideschools.org has first-hand reviews of every public school. Gothamschools.org is a go-to site for news about the system. We will always highlight what is on these sites and others, but we thought there was space for a broader site that would emphasize both journalism and community, in multiple platforms. We’ve spent the last eight months building it.

Our slogan is: news, data and conversation. But SchoolBook is, above all a navigational tool, a compass of sorts – not to tell you where to go or what to do, but to provide resources that educators, experts, policymakers, parents and taxpayers can add to and draw from. And it is all free -- the site is exempt from NYTimes.com's digital subscriptions; all you have to do is log in through Facebook to participate.

SchoolBook is now the main place to find coverage of schools in New York by The Times and WNYC. SchoolBook's home page will mix those news, feature and multimedia stories with essays by members of the education community, as well as photos, videos, queries, comments and more. We want to, for example, showcase student newspapers and artwork. We also want people to be able to benefit from other people’s experience. So each day’s news feed will be a blend of political coverage and advice. How-to’s and how it was. A mix of fun and seriousness that we hope will be liberally leavened by our users.

SchoolBook is also where you can find statistics related to every school in the city, simplified and made more accessible. Robert Gebeloff, a member of The Times’s computer-assisted reporting team who has been working with education data for 15 years, is the architect of our system for presenting the data; you can read more about the methodology in his “Behind the Numbers” post and a set of Frequently Asked Questions. He’ll be further exploring, explaining and answering user questions in future Behind the Numbers posts.

The data are key components of pages we have created for the city’s 2,500 public, charter, private and parochial schools. While far less data may be available for private schools, we hope to update and improve those pages over time. From an individual school page, you can dive deeper into the data, and see graphics and additional links, by clicking on “View all data…” Using the Search + Compare tool in the upper right, you can put the data for different schools side-by-side, and look at the things that are most important to you.

Hundreds of the public school pages include comments directly from their principals. These are responses to 10 questions we e-mailed to principals over the summer, and we hope they help the public better understand the goals, philosophy, environment, programs, facilities and needs of every school. If you are a principal and you would like to respond to the survey – there’s still time! – please e-mail schoolbook@wnyc.org.

The final component of SchoolBook is conversation. And we hope you interpret that broadly. Write to us, for us, about us. But, more important, we hope you will use this opportunity to build community around your school. With the simplicity of posting to a social media site, any member of a school community can help create a robust Web page full of information, photos, videos, announcements and news. We only ask that you log in through Facebook, so we can discourage anonymous and malicious comments and maintain a high level of discourse. When you select certain schools to follow, your SchoolBook activity can be highlighted on those schools’ pages, helping to connect you to others in your particular community.

In the coming months, you will hear more from SchoolBook’s reporters and editors – about data, about ways to better use the site, about new features and general updates of how it’s all going. But we also want to hear from you. Tell us what you think. Make suggestions. Criticize us. Offer ideas. This is an ambitious project, and one that is a significant departure for both The Times and WNYC. We’ll keep working on it. We hope you will keep coming back.

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