STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

5 resources to help you compare schools in Michigan

 As I was working on yesterday's story about charter schools, I came across a problem that must be frustrating for many parents: It is incredibly difficult to find the right information to compare schools in Michigan. The information is all out there. It's just really hard to put it together in a way that makes sense. 

The first problem is figuring out where to look. So, here are five resources to help start the search: 

  1. MI School Data - This is the official site for school and school district information in the state of Michigan. One of the best features of the site is the Top to Bottom ranking. The ranking gives a composite score that includes testing results from five different subject areas and, in the case of high schools, graduation rates. You can edit each report to look at Top to Bottom rankings on a statewide basis, or in individual school districts. DOWNSIDE: The site isn't very user friendly. I spent a couple hours trying to figure out how to use it, and it's my job to figure out stuff like this. 
  2. - This may be the most user-friendly of all the school comparison tools I've found. You can search for schools by city or state, then look at the results on a map to find schools close to where you live. And, on each school page, there's detailed info including test score results, demographics and school reviews from other users on the site. DOWNSIDE: Ads. Lots of ads. 
  3. - A project from the Community Research Institute at GVSU, this site allows you to search for schools on a map, and make side-by-side comparisons on specific test score results and demographics. One nice feature is that you can narrow your map search to include only specific types of schools. So you can have the map show only charter schools, or only private schools, or only traditional public schools. DOWNSIDE: Takes a little while to get used to the format, though it's nowhere near as difficult to parse as the MI School Data site. 
  4. The Michigan Public High School Context and Performance Database - The title is a mouthful, but this is a unique and useful report from the folks at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The report applies a statistical correction to school performance measures that takes into account the socioeconomic status of the students in the schools. Basically, it tries to give an apples to apples comparison between schools that have a high number of poor kids versus schools that don't. DOWNSIDE: The report only covers high schools for now, and it groups the rankings based on types of geographic locations (city versus rural, for example), but doesn't provide full rankings for each city or county. (EDIT: You can search by location in the online database, but not in the print report).
  5. Excellent Schools Detroit 2012 Report Card - One of the best things about this report is that its authors don't beat around the bush - they say at the very beginning of the report which schools they think are best in the city of Detroit. You can dive deeper, and you can break out the results by neighborhood, but the information is all fairly straightforward and easy to understand. DOWNSIDE: Only covers Detroit schools; rankings rely exclusively on reading and math test scores. 
Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.