Reasons for optimism: Focusing on the right ed sector challenges will lead to breakthroughs

There continue to be positive signs that the education sector is headed toward a new era of innovation, entrepreneurialism and effectiveness that will ultimately result in better schools for all kids nationwide:

  • Growing private capital is flowing to fund education innovation.
  • States and districts are moving to increased uniformity on key elements like academic standards, assessments and data.
  • States are making slow but real progress in better using the massive amounts of data collected each year.
  • The Department of Education’s has remained committed to driving sectorwide agreement on the four key pillars of reform as defined by the Race to the Top fund.

But much work remains to be done. At the foundation, we believe that the absence of a single data standard is the fundamental element that has kept the education sector stuck in old ways of doing business. We believe that, until the mass of student data that teachers and districts collect is standardized so it can move easily between systems, every new tool will require significant work to be integrated into a school’s or district’s daily life. And until that happens, new tools, regardless of their intended compatibility, can only drive innovation in very small fishbowls – a classroom here, a school there – rather than in a comprehensive way that can change every teacher’s ability to affect every student’s academic outcome.

To be clear, data standards aren’t the only thing holding the sector back. But lack of standardization is a key obstacle.

On that front, two promising signs on the data standards front are worth noting. The first is the increasing traction of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) effort. CEDS version 2, a voluntary standard which seeks to forge a new, comprehensive set of data definitions for use at the state and federal levels, was published earlier this year after being expanded to include all elements required for federal reporting – an important first step toward improving the efficiency of data collection for compliance reporting.

We believe that improvement and innovation in the education sector are within reach, and that moving aggressively to standardize data will unlock the potential of both.

The second important trend is the continued enthusiastic response and momentum around Ed-Fi, a free tool suite designed to consolidate and unify data for easy-to-use educator tools. Ed-Fi-enabled dashboards are being implmented now in Texas and Delaware. And a growing number of states, vendors and districts are licensing Ed-Fi to help accelerate their efforts to put timely, actionable, high quality dashboards at teachers’ fingertips.

We believe that improvement and innovation in the education sector are within reach, and that moving aggressively to standardize data will unlock the potential of both. And in that, we see clear cause for optimism.

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.