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Lori Fey: Listening to what teachers have to say about education data

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job – actually the  most rewarding aspect – is spending time with teachers.

The work of the Ed-Fi Alliance is grounded in the real world of educators, and hearing from those on the front lines helps ensure that we’re keeping a bead on what they need most. To that end, we’ve recently begun to interview a handful of Texas educators who are using improved education data tools to make a difference for kids. Our goal is to understand how access to information is changing, and hopefully improving, their daily classroom work.  It’s also to understand where we need to go next.

The teachers we’ve interviewed put meat on the bones of education sector conversations about what data can do to help address real world education challenges and opportunities. What we’ve found so far is that, while we’re still in early days, the progress we’re making is real—real enough to bring tears to the eyes of this self-proclaimed data geek.

Our interviews to date map to a few key themes:

  • Data animates insight – Every educator we talked with described feeling better equipped to deal with the specific needs of  individual students when they had ready access to insights offered by improved data dashboard tools.
  • Data cements trust – Teachers establish a bond of trust with their students first, then build on that bond to shore up academic weaknesses and accelerate students capable of more.  Insight into a student’s past performance helps establish that trust and fast-track the learning process.
  • Data stimulates creativity– Creativity applied to a specific area of need for a group of students is the heart of the teaching process.  Creative problem-solving that’s applied to clearly delineated student needs can help students attain previously unattainable goals. One or two positive experiences can motivate and engage both student and teacher in a cycle of learning where before there was defeat and disinterest.

Education data tools: Moving forward in the right direction

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share a series of educator interviews that offer insight into the ways that improved information tools, in the hands of the right people, are changing the educational experience for teachers, students and parents.  My hope is that these educators’ voices will hit everyone else with equal force – and that they’ll help inform an ongoing conversation about how we can build data tools that make teachers’ lives easier and their work more effective.

I also hope that they’ll inspire those of us focused on sectorwide improvement— whether from the perspective of government, private, philanthropic or grassroots organizations—to double down on our efforts to make effective data tools accessible to the estimated 3.1 million teachers and 49.5 million students in elementary and secondary schools across this country.

Access, of course, is just the first step. But if we truly want to give educators the ability to drive frontline change, it’s absolutely critical—and listening to teachers is the only way we can ensure we’re building a path that’s headed in the right direction.

Lori Fey is president of the president of the Ed-Fi Alliance. Prior to leading the Alliance, Lori served as portfolio director for policy initiatives at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. You can read more of Lori’s posts here.  And if you’re a K-12 educator with a strong point of view on how data could be—or is—used to make a difference for kids in the classroom, the Ed-Fi team would love to hear from you. Email communications@ed-fi.org to share your story!

Read the first and second posts in the series: 

  1. Stacey Hensley: Education data makes a tough job easier
  2. Kim Holmes: Education data opens the door of creativity

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