“Data” has become a dirty word for advocates of public education. It doesn’t have to be (Notice)
Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was enacted in 2002, the words “data collection” have inspired fear and mistrust in education circles. For many educators, the term signifies the bureaucratic’s armed use of standardized test scores to monitor and punish districts, schools, and teachers who fail to meet seemingly arbitrary standards of test score gains. For some, the data collection also represents an attack on public education – a tool to support market-based approaches (read: charter schools and vouchers) at the expense of the country’s traditional system of community-based public schools.
But a redesigned approach to data collection could help restore and re-energize community focus on public education, and also help the new Biden administration avoid a deadly partisan battle.
The Biden team assesses education measures that include massive increases in federal funding to improve educational outcomes for underprivileged students, to open universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and to make colleges and universities public free for colleges. – and low-income families.
These changes are well worth fighting for, but are likely to spark strong Republican opposition, fueled by outrage over a new foray by Washington into an area that some believe should never have been wrested from control. state and local first.
I think the administration could avoid some of this anger by using its chair as a bully and mobilizing grants to create a national culture of community-friendly generation, dissemination and use of data. A redesigned data system could encourage bottom-up use of information nationally, especially at the local level, by removing ideological barriers to collaboration and testifying to Republicans’ belief that innovation and creativity have locally.
What could this new use of data look like?
Consider the “Data Walk” method employed by the Urban Institute to empower local communities as partners in designing policies and programs that meet their own needs. During a Data Walk, program participants, community residents, and service providers jointly review and interpret data in small groups and collaborate to improve policies, programs, and other drivers of community change.
Data Walks helped design a sexual health and safety program for youth and adults living in a public housing estate in the District of Columbia and improve employment and education services in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago and Portland, Oregon.
A redesigned approach to data collection could help restore and re-energize community focus on public education, and also help the new Biden administration avoid a deadly partisan battle.
Likewise, the National Partnership on Neighborhood Indicators, a learning network also coordinated by the Urban Institute, provides neighborhood-level data to independent partner organizations in more than 30 cities.
I offer them as illustrations and not as specific approvals. The philosophy they share is that democratize information, residents and local organizations can develop a stronger voice in improving their own communities.
Driven by this kind of vision, the Biden administration could reorient data collection on education. Data could serve democratic accountability rather than bureaucracy. This could empower parents to act collectively, as citizens, rather than individually, as consumers.
But can data usage really be managed in stages from the White House? NCLB, launched under Republican President George W. Bush, and Race to the Top (RTTT), an initiative of Democratic President Barack Obama, have shown that top-down efforts to incentivize data use have unintended effects. , ranging from system play to outright backlash. .
Yet for all their problematic consequences, NCLB and RTTT have shown that the federal government can push and incentivize better data systems to exist. From 2009 to 2014, the number of states investing their own funds increased from eight to 41, and a subset of those states made timely and useful data available to parents, teachers, and others. Armed with new information on the relative academic performance of historically disadvantaged students, advocates lobbied districts to make equity a higher priority.
The incoming administration can build on these lessons on how to incentivize states and districts to build and use data systems by encouraging demonstration projects, supporting the dissemination of best ideas, reconfiguring criteria for competitive grants, encouraging capacity building at the community level and targeting research. funds. Such efforts could unite a range of stakeholders to demand information on important educational outcomes beyond those assessed by standardized tests.
Local groups have grown accustomed to using data, but there is a demand for a wider range of metrics, which can help establish common focus among often disparate collaborators. Two experts working with local partnerships put it this way: “Agreement on a common program is illusory without agreement on how success will be measured and reported. “
As my colleagues and I discovered in a 2016 study of 183 local and cross-sectoral education collaborations, 40% had a dedicated data section of their websites, which they used to draw attention to underestimated issues or opportunities, provide guidance for action or monitor impact. Most of these data presentations relied on readily available metrics such as test scores and graduation rates, but some found ways to track kindergarten readiness, children’s social and emotional development, college counseling. , disciplinary practices, use of technology and parental engagement. These types of indicators relate to the concerns and interests of concern to community stakeholders, but without strong federal pressure, they are not collected in a consistent and reliable manner.
None of this would be easy. Many federal and philanthropic efforts to empower communities have either failed or gone awry. Information alone will not stimulate the necessary structural changes. It must be accompanied by resources, a strategy for changing power relations and a patient investment in sustainable initiatives. But done right and wisely, a federal commitment to a redesigned data app can help broaden and fortify a grassroots constituency to support the values the Biden administration hopes to advance.