Just data is not enough: Education questions still need answers

Essential Progress

In 2005, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) set out to establish the notion of robust, longitudinal education data systems as a fundamental cornerstone of educational improvement. Now, six years later, all 50 states report that they are on track to have the 10 Essential Elements by September 2011. By all accounts, this represents significant progress in the ability to collect and connect education data. Having the data is an essential first step. And yet, critical questions–questions that tell us what is working and what is not working–are still unanswered in nearly all states and districts.

Data Collection ≠ Answers

Consider this–do you know which schools, in your state or local school district, produce the strongest academic gains for initially poorly-prepared students and for initially well-prepared students? Does anyone? More importantly, can a school’s principal and teachers answer these questions for themselves and set action plans in motion based on the answers?

By September 2011, all states report they will be able to answer that question as well as others of critical importance to our nation’s students, their families, teachers, principals and communities. The answers to these questions may surprise us. The experiences of Houston Independent School District are a great example – outstanding academic gains were found in unexpected places and not found in expected ones. Setting the wheels of change in motion, based on the facts, led the district to identify and make the most of shining examples in its own midst. Discoveries like this are happening in pioneering districts nationwide who are harnessing the power of their own data to inform and inspire change. These districts have learned lessons, some the hard way, that states need to note. Just collecting data is not enough; just publishing reports is not enough. The meaningful use of data to improve performance comes when educators have the time, the routine processes, the skills and supports, and, perhaps most importantly, the leadership to ensure that data personalizes the education experience for each child.

The work is done when every educator has easy access to the information that reveals what is working, and not working, for each and every student.

Continuous Improvement Requires More

Will the work be done in September 2011 when states, and by extension districts, report having the data? Of course it won’t. The work is done when every educator has easy access to the information that reveals what is working, and not working, for each and every student. When meaningful data use is part of a larger, systematic quest for continuous improvement. When the answers to the DQC policy questions are taken for granted as the starting place for debates and discussions about allocating public resources or changing education policies to effectively promote student achievement. Until then, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is working alongside our nation’s most challenged urban school districts, sleeves rolled up, to show what is possible when strong leadership combines with insightful information and dedicated educators to do the best for kids. What are you doing?

As president of the Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori Fey manages the rapid growth and adoption of the Ed-Fi data standard for states, school districts and vendors across the US. Prior to leading Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori served as portfolio director for policy initiatives at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and was responsible for the foundation’s policy initiatives focused on institutionalizing performance management in the U.S. public education system.

Read more of Lori’s posts here.