SEDL Contributes to Civic Index that Measures Factors to Support & Sustain Quality Public Schools

Published in SEDL Letter Volume XX, Number 2, August 2008, Afterschool, Family, and Community
SEDL is one of eight organizations to partner with the Public Education Network (PEN) to develop the newly released online Civic Index for Quality Public Education,

Funded by the MetLife Foundation, the Civic Index assesses 10 categories of community support that are critical factors outside the school needed to support and sustain quality public schools. In conjunction with the Civic Index, PEN released results of a national poll it conducted that measures public attitudes toward education and assesses the ten categories of community support.

The poll reveals that even when other issues are seizing the day, Americans still care deeply about education. Top concerns included gas prices (22 percent) and jobs and the economy (19 percent), followed by education (12 percent). Six in 10 Americans say that candidates for office are focusing too little on education in election campaigns this year. "Americans care about their schools, but they are not hearing enough about schools and not seeing the changes they would like," said Wendy Puriefoy, president of PEN. "The poll reveals that, as a result, Americans are losing confidence in local and national efforts to improve schools and in the elected and public officials who are in charge of making change happen."

The online Index provides instructions for communities to administer the poll and interpret results. The index was field-tested across West Virginia in 2006 and two communities—San Francisco, and Paterson, New Jersey—have already conducted the Civic Index this year. Sibyl Jackson, president of MetLife Foundation said, "The goal is to encourage community leaders and organizations and stakeholders to look under the hood of their counties, cities, towns, and neighborhood to see what aspects of their support for quality schools needs fine-tuning, and work better together to help schools succeed."

SEDL program associate Chris Ferguson, who wrote much of the copy describing the categories and suggested strategies, said, "In the last 10 years, we have seen greater interest and more demand for establishing well-designed community, family, and school connections. As a nation, we have begun to take to heart the idea of 'it takes a village.' For the first time, we have a comprehensive tool that allows us to understand the strengths and weakness in how our school communities address education, and most important, what we do to make those communities event stronger."

Ferguson explained that the Index, "truly allows the user to collect data, analyze data, explore research and best practice, and determine appropriate strategies for the community context. It is a systemic approach to ensure that every child has a quality education."

SEDL web administrator Brian Litke also worked on the project. Working with storyboard content provided by Ferguson, he supervised a graphic designer who developed an animated, web-based introduction to the Civic Index. Litke also programmed the data-saving mechanisms that allow each user's data to be saved while they are viewing the introduction.

The research-based index was developed over the past several years in consultation with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Maryland and a range of other social scientists and national experts drawn from more than 30 national organizations.

Other partners who worked on development of the Civic Index include Collaborative Communications Group, Commerce Lane, CommunicationWorks, Gallup University, Lake Research Partners, National Center for Learning and Citizenship, and Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

About Public Education Network
Public Education Network (PEN) is a national association of local education funds and individuals working to advance public school reform in low-income communities across our country. PEN believes an active, vocal constituency is the key to ensuring that every child, in every community, benefits from a quality public education. To learn more about PEN, visit

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