The Data Revolution: Is Data the Key to Better Teachers and More Effective Schools or a Canard?


Data is the new four letter word.
A core of the just passed health care law is the conversion of traditional medical records to an electronic format. Doctors, health administrators, policy makers and electeds will be able to track medical decisions and costs, evaluate, assess and ultimately the goal: electronic datum will drive policy; better medical treatments and lower costs for end users, employers and governments.
My medical center has converted to electronic records; on my last visit I received an e-RX, an electronic prescription cyber-shipped to my pharmacy. Instead of leafing through page upon page of visit notes and lab test results all appear on my doctor’s computer screen. Of course, the advise doesn’t change, “lose weight, get more exercise.”
Will the health care law live up to expectations?  To assess the cost saving sections we will have to wait five or ten years. And, reducing obesity is a personal decision. The jury will be out for a long time.
The Obama-Duncan mantra echoes the health care scree: data is the key to improving student achievement.
Dangling 4.3 billion in Race to the Top competitive dollars, federal State Incentive Grants (SIG) and i3 funding all require that states and school districts build rich, data storehouses.
In New York State schools can download state ELA/Math exam results, create an error matrix, disaggregate by student and by class, provide teachers with specific skills that require remediation, and, follow-up in classroom observations and grade conferences. If used correctly schools can target academic deficiencies.
New York City has created that datum warehouse, i. e., ARIS, principals and teachers have easy access to an avalanche of information about each and every student; state test scores, interim, periodic and predictive assessments, attendance, etc. are all just a few mouse clicks away.  Each school is required to form  Inquiry Teams, a group of teachers closely analyzes student data from an at-risk cohort of students and share their findings with the school.
In theory data will inform classroom instruction enabling the classroom teacher to tailor lessons to the needs of individual students, to measure both school and individual teacher effectiveness, and, perhaps to drive teacher remuneration.
In practice can we point to exemplar schools, or school districts, or states that use data and can point to higher success as measured by pupil achievement? No, we cannot. It is far too early in the “revolution.”
Teachers remain suspicious, in New York State scale scores (see defense here and Aaron Pallas’ cogent criticism here) are adjusted annually for both state ELA/Math, as well as regents exams, creating “easy” or “difficult” exams from year to year.
What is so troubling is that the feds know that student assessments are lacking, the feds are doling out $350 million to encourage consortiums of states to create these absent assessments; if assessments are lacking how can Arne build an entire system on these shifting sands?

“States are leading the way in creating new standards designed to ensure that students graduate from high school ready for success in college and careers,” Secretary Duncan said. “To fully realize this vision, states need new assessments that measure a broader range of students’ knowledge and skills.”

Funding will be awarded to a consortia of states that create assessments that:

  • Measure standards that are rigorous, globally competitive, and consistent across the states in the consortium;
  • Provide accurate information about what students know and can do—including both students’ achievement of standards and students’ academic growth from year to year;
  • Reflect and support good instructional practice so they inspire great teaching;
  • Include all students from the outset—including English learners and students with disabilities; and
  • Present data to everyone who needs it—students, parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers—in ways that are clear, useful and actionable.
How can we close schools, fire principals and teachers, grant or fail to grant tenure based upon absent or faulty data?
Hopefully the Congress will rein in the Obama-Duncan ESEA reauthorization, spending huge sums on the data revolution will most certainly enrich corporate giants, whether it makes for better teachers is highly debatable.


3 responses to “The Data Revolution: Is Data the Key to Better Teachers and More Effective Schools or a Canard?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    How can we close schools, fire principals and teachers, grant or fail to grant tenure in the absence of student achievement data?


    • You seem to be doing a pretty good job so far using skewed, faulty data (except, of course, firing principals – the sacred cows of the DOE).

      Is using faulty data better than using no data at all? Doesn’t using faulty data only lead to faulty decisions?


  2. Paul Feingold

    I think we need to get some real data experts on board the current education bandwagon. The auditors and regulators of Lehman Brothers would be a start. How about some leftover Enron executives? Of course the discoverers of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction who supplied Colin Powell with the “facts” for his UN presentation might be available.

    We need to be wary of ideological/self-serving experts bearing data.


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