This project explored how parents and young people in New York City experience school selection in a context in which admission decisions to both public and charter schools are made, at least in part, by algorithm. It culminated in the Data & Society report Spectrum of Trust in Data.
The rise of open educational data, available to the general public on dashboards, open data repositories, and relatively user-friendly and visually appealing reports, presents new factors for families to consider. There is an assumption that transparency and access to information will enable parties to make better, more informed, decisions.
What is the scope of choices actually available? Who are these choices available to? What understandings, whether folk, informal or formal do families draw on to construct mental models of algorithmic decision-making mechanisms and processes? What resources are available to support families as they make their choices, and what experiences do families have of using these resources? How do people use, or not use data when making personal ranking decisions, and how are the mechanics of choice policy felt and understood by those they most affect? How do parents and young people narrate their experiences of navigating a school choice landscape in an urban environment characterized by fierce competition for scarce resources?
The current public and academic debate about school choice is primarily centered on the social effects of a theoretical increase in families’ autonomy to select schools, an increase that is unequally distributed and leads to greater segmentation among schools on the basis of race and class. By contrast, this data use study looks at the individual meaning-making processes of families and the role of data in these processes.Through this study, we sought to understand to what extent the rhetoric of data transparency as a progressive force holds true in the context of school choice.