How schools are struggling to use data for improvisation

Can we use educational data to make aid in improving schools?

Well, the same is the idea behind bringing a management philosophy known as “continuous improvement” to all K-12 schools. The philosophy has previously helped other industries.

Though, experts counter that K-12 education system’s current data infrastructure would be a significant barrier to the implementation of the philosophy.

Just monitoring how schools are doing is not going to help them get better. The new data systems should allow the school staff to say what they want to accomplish and evaluate what they have accomplished.

Some stories

Menomonee school district in Wisconsin is praised for improving so many things ranging from recess safety to cleanliness of its classrooms on the basis of informal information collected by educators and administration.

The Chicago school district has been pioneering in usage of ‘early-warning’ data for keeping tab on graduation and college, but such work typically dwells on existing data systems to support some narrowly targeted improvement project only.

A New York-based nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools works on developing new data systems to help schools collect “process data” that is critical as per philosophy of continuous improvement. But these tools remain out of reach of K-12.

Education places great emphasis on data for accountability purposes. So, far the schools have done much poorer job at providing teachers and administrators with the tools that are required.

The paltry impact on Pedagogy

The idea of using data for improving schools is not new.

In 2010, US Department of Education made data-driven decision making as a national priority for states and schools.

Later on the report showed that there was little to no impact on actual classroom teaching.

A lot of reasons were there, conflict of beliefs about project, problem in using the system, perception that data is useless and a lot of misconceptions.

8 years have passed and the problem yet persists and we need to fight them.

What could be done?

Usually, continuous improvement is a long term commitment. We cannot determine whether certain measures were successful or not on the basis of little data and analysis.

Rather than finding a problem, applying a strategy and see it outcomes, the schools should focus on implementing strategies more methodically and also learn much more about them while they happen.

In such a process the problem would be identified by the school first, then a theory about improving it would be made, and then people who are closest to the problem should be addressed. Altogether, develop measures and analyze day-to-day progress aligned to the theory.

Technology tools should help in monitoring three things: whether whatever was planned actually happening, whether it’s making any difference on measures that are developed by educators, and how these little efforts impact the long-term outcomes.

We can expect the work at the school to be best when schools supplement system-wide data that is grained finer such as day-in-and-day-out data. We should focus on collecting data that is much closer to what we actually want to change.


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