Once you have watched the movie “Waiting for Superman”, you can't help but worry for children in school. It was very eye-opening for me to see what challenges students and parents face to get a quality education. Being the parent of three children and given my role at SAS as a marketer for the education industry, it really made me think about my children and their schooling.
The big thing I wonder is, “How is the school making decisions about its students?” How do they know that, say, Johnny is ready to go to Algebra 1 or that he should be placed in AP classes? Are they able to determine before classes start how many students are expected and how many teachers, teacher aids, and classes will be needed for each grade? Do they know that Johnny is falling behind and may need extra help/tutoring/counseling before he fails? Do they know what students are on track to graduate in 4 years and who are not, why? Are they using data at all to make these important decisions about our children’s education? Or are they mainly relying on hunches?
Sadly more often than not, schools and school administrators are not relying on data. K-12 is plagued with data in so many various and disparate systems and formats. If they even can get information, depending on what database they hit, teachers and adminstrators get different answers. Plus, many districts lack the expertise and budget to be able to bring all this data together in order to have “one version of the truth” in which to make decisions. Many districts take the autopsy approach. They see that Johnny failed then wonder why and try then to figure out what they could have done differently. By that time, it is too late for Johnny.
Earlier this year, I attended the Consortium of School Networking conference and saw a school district that is successfully using data to drive decisions. Betty Weycker, Assistant Superintendent for Technology, and Debbie Harman, North Carolina Window of Information on Student Education (NCWISE) Coordinator for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools presented, “Data Systems That Enable School Leaders to Make a Difference”. Betty and Debbie explained how their district is transforming teaching and learning by using 21st century data systems to provide a holistic view of their district's data. The district has gathered and consolidated all their district data into a data warehouse. They have also created a portal for their administration and staff to be able to access accurate and timely data and reports and to use this information to make proactive data driven decisions about students, programs, classes, etc. It was wonderful to hear about the amazing things they are able to do. We had the opportunity to film their presentation and also created a conclusions paper from it.
This begs me to ask, why aren’t more districts looking to create this kind of data-driven culture? Wouldn’t this be the best thing for our students?