In many cities, rating the effectiveness of public schools is as easy as texting on a Blackberry.

School districts have used technology in ways to benefit students: laptops in homes, updates with electronic newsletters, and communication with teachers via email. Now, capitalizing on ever-present public opinion, many districts are turning to the technology of the internet to get an idea of how parents feel about their child’s education.

Districts are using the surveys — often available on paper as well as online — as a tool to get input from parents on everything from homework policies, to teacher effectiveness, to opinions on student uniforms.

A school district in Oregon is using an online survey to give parents and families the opportunity to speak out about next year’s school calendar.

The Syracuse, New York school district has a list of specific questions including thoughts on the district’s finances (spending), busing, and student transfers between schools. The survey also gives participants a place to include comments.

And the questionnaires aren’t just for parents. A recent Pennsylvania district got feedback from the community on school consolidation, though not without controversy. And one in Montana encouraged residents to participate so the district could find out citizen opinions abo of the public schools in the area.

According to New York City Department of Education, their 2009 annual survey had the highest participation response (over a quarter of a million more responders than two years before), with over 850,000 parents, students, and teachers assessing how well the school district is meeting their needs.

Surveys are also being used for accreditation. No Child Left Behind requires schools to track progress, and make improvements accordingly. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education recognized the efforts of the Mesa, Arizona school district to improve upon educational programs in all of their schools. Part of the recognition addressed the district’s reliance upon, and respect for, parent and student input — via survey — as to how the district was progressing.

Regular parent and student surveys make the parent feedback a formal, quantitative element of the data book used to guide planning. During the spring of each year, the district sends a survey home with every student and collects survey information from selected fifth-graders and secondary school students. Five-year trend data on these measures show both areas of progress and areas for improvement. — U.S. Department of Education, Innovations in Education: Creating Strong District School Choice Programs

If these surveys are used to effectively improve education, it sounds as though participation is a win-win for everyone. And with the ability to participate from home, the park, or the subway, these districts have discovered—in this very modern society — how to capture the voice of the people.