5 Key Metrics Cities Should Use to Drive Educational Improvement


Andreesen Horowitz recently published a list of 16 metrics that venture capitalists often look at when making investment decisions.

This made me reflect on the state of metrics for city based education reform.

Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what metrics city based leaders (either as a formal harbormaster or as a coordinated effort philanthropists and reformers) should use to set goals and track their progress.

To be blunt, I think many of the goals that city leaders set are garbage.

I’m highly skeptical about setting goals such as: “by 2025 80% of our 3rd graders will be reading on grade level.”

This is generally what you see in district strategic plans or in city based collective action plans. While I don’t have exact numbers, my guess is that approximately 100% of districts fail to meet these type of goals.

The reason is simple: these goals are not tethered to a strategy that has a realistic chance of producing the desired results.

So what should city leaders do? Here’s some metric that I find useful:

#1 New High-Quality Seat Creation

Cities should set hard targets on how many new high-quality seats (students served) they will create via new school openings (charter, traditional, or private).

The total seat number should at least be 2% of the total student population for larger cities, and closer to 5% for smaller cities. So a city with 500,000 students should be opening ~10,000 new seats a year, and a city with 40,000 students should be opening ~2,000 new seats a year.

The total seat number should also be discounted in that all new seat will be high-quality. For mature cities, I’d estimate a 65-75% high-quality rate. For cities just getting new school development off the ground, I’d estimate closer to 50-65%.

#2 Medium-Quality Seat Improvement

Assuming a city is making sound investments in talent, and there is a well structured accountability system, it is likely that medium-quality schools will improve over time. I don’t really know how to set this target, as I haven’t seen good data analysis on what we can expect from improvement. If I had to pick a number, I’d shoot for 1-2% of medium quality seats become high-quality seats each year.

#3 Teacher Pipeline

One of the biggest mistakes we made in New Orleans was opening schools faster than we were building out high-quality teacher pipelines. City leaders should be building teacher pipelines that meet the needs of their expanding high-quality school sector.

Ideally, I’d like to see 50% coverage of the teacher pipelines needed to meet the needs of all high and medium quality schools. When I talk to school leaders, they estimate that 50-70% of their new hires are new teachers, so I don’t think you need 100% coverage of the new hire needs with entry teacher pipelines.

In other words, if you have 10,000 high-quality and medium-quality seats, and you have a 20:1 student teacher ration, and you estimate 20% turnover, then you need 100 teachers a year for these schools. 50% of this number would mean that you want 50 teachers a year coming from high-quality pipelines.

#4 Parent Voice

This is another area why I’m not exactly sure what the number should be. But my rough guess is that high-quality schools should be able to support at least 5% of their families to speak in support of high-quality schools at public meetings. So if a city has 20,000 students in high-quality schools, and we assume this represents 15,000 families, then at least 750 families should participate in public forums that impact high-quality schools.

#5 Community Support

I think cities should attempt to have at least 50% of citizens answering affirmative to the question: “is education improving in our city?”


I’m still mulling much of this over. I’m very sure the above is not exactly right.

But I do think the above metrics represent a strategic world view that has a high chance of increasing educational opportunity.

Moreover, these metrics can be rolled up to make projections on outcomes such as high school graduation rates, but I do think the real strategic and analytical firepower is getting the short-term execution based metrics right.

Overtime, I’d love to see us develop more precision about what ambitious but realistic targets are across all these areas.

Lastly, if you have other ideas for metrics, I’d love to hear them.

6 thoughts on “5 Key Metrics Cities Should Use to Drive Educational Improvement

  1. John danner

    Great stuff as always neerav!

    Im not sure i would have 1-3 which are process metrics, not outcome metrics. I think what you did right in NOLA was relentless focus on the achievement of the district. Would be good to hear if this is one number or has to include subgroups to be valid based on NOLA experience. The good operators focus on SPED and achievement gaps because its part of the mission, but in a city wide effort, these subgroups may need to be highlighted. Ultimately achievement is what its all about. It is the reason we built Zeal Tutoring, there have to be fundamental forces raising achievement, rather than just the lottery of whether a student has the right teacher in her classroom. Once the system you build requires intensive focus on school culture but can rely on other forces for academic lift, achievemnt will get much more consistent.

    4 and 5 are right on because this is an inherently political process. Newark didnt have community support, NOLA did. Measuring and focusing on grass-roots as you did is far better because grass-tops can change issue by issue, but will generally follow grass-roots over the long term. This is as difficult an area of change management as achievement above, and much easier for schools to avoid if its not measured and transparent.

    I group real estate under politics because the financing/building is not hard for a modern blended school, but this is an area where city and district support and politics are make or break for getting approvals. I would measure political support largely on facility approval for authorized schools. Since at that point, the community is past the stage of deciding if a school should open, it measures real community support for the change.

    See if you can get the templates that the charter networks use to evaluate cities. Those are pretty well refined at this point and a good thing for cities to think about, though they include more process metrics than a city would want for its toplevel metrics.

    1. nkingsl

      John – thanks for your thoughts. I would argue that seat-quality if measure correctly is tied to an academic output (i.e., a high-quality seat is only one where the school achieves X growth).

      I like the idea of including facilities as a metric.

  2. Jon Butzon

    I guess these metrics raise at least two questions for me. One, what is the ultimate goal? Two, how long will it take to accomplish that goal?

    There is no question in my mind that most of the metrics now used by school “leaders” are 100% baloney!


  3. Katrina Ballard

    Definitely a good list, but in addition to #3, what about good school leaders? In my experience as a teacher at a public school and working at a high-performing CMO, good leaders make or break good teachers.

  4. nkingsl

    Agree – I think I would view good leaders as a subcomponent of seat growth; as schools can only grow if they have internal leadership pipelines. I put teachers as a separate category as schools can’t control for this on their own in that they generally need to partner with third parties / universities.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.