Seven steps U.S. schools should take to harness data-driven benefits in education

A new report suggests U.S. K-12 education system is failing to take advantage of data-driven decision making tools to improve student performance.
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America’s school systems need to get on the data bandwagon, a group of education and technology advocates said Tuesday.

Their assessment – and suggestions on how education leaders might overcome the obstacles to using education data more effectively – were part of panel discussion following the release of a new report by the Center for Data Innovation.

The report asserts that U.S. school systems are failing to realize the potential benefits other industry sectors are achieving from the intelligent use of data, and that federal, state and local policy leaders must do more to embrace data-driven learning.


“While most Americans are empowered by data and technology in nearly every aspect of their lives, U.S. schools are largely failing to use data to transform and improve education,” said Joshua New, a policy analyst at the center and author of the report, “Building a Data-Driven Education System.”

Although 93 percent of teachers are using digital tools in their classrooms, according to information cited by the report, “The U.S. K-12 education system is clearly falling short when it comes to both student performance and disparities in educational outcome,” he said.

“The better use of data has the potential to significantly improve how educators teach children and how administrators manage schools,” he said.

The report highlights how a data-driven education system could significantly improve personalized learning and school operations, and accelerate innovation in education.

It also outlines the societal costs that a century-old lecturing approach to education continues to impose on America’s students, its schools and the U.S. economy – and offered seven recommendations policymakers should take to accelerate the development of a data-driven education system.


Among the report’s recommendations:

– Encourage smarter data collection and management

– Encourage data system interoperability

– Empower students and parents with access to their data

– Promote data-driven decision-making


– Push back against unfounded privacy fears

– Develop a model data-driven school district

– Use data to promote equity in education

As with many issues in education, when it comes to integrating data tools into school systems, policy makers remain hobbled by the competing challenges of “time, turf, trust and technology,” said Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign, an education data advocacy group.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to advancing data-driven education initiatives, she said, is the need to better explain how data actually serves – and provides value to – teachers and students.


“That’s the piece we’re missing. It’s not about building more data, per se, but taking what you’ve got, and making a ‘so what’ decision around it,” she said.

However, policy makers face a number of other barriers, according to the report – and the edtech experts invited by react to it during a panel discussion hosted by the think tank.

Among them are pervasive concerns about student data privacy and widespread, if somewhat unfounded, hostility to using data in the classroom, the report said. Another is the need for tools that are easier for teachers to use, along with more reliable data integration systems for school districts.

But there was strong census that a fundamental challenge is the need for greater professional development for teachers and school administrators.

“Professional development is the least attended, least funded and most desperately needed thing we face if we want to make this a success,” said Tracy Weeks, executive director of the State Education Technology Directors Association.


Weeks also cautioned that states need to allow schools to be more flexible, and permit teachers to use their time differently.

“Are we shifting from a time-based system to an evidence-based system of learning,” she asked or merely asking teachers to spend more time evaluating student data? “If we really want innovation to happen, we’ve got to have better technology, but also better policies from states to allow schools to make these changes.”

Chip Slaven, counsel to the president, and senior advocacy advisor at Alliance for Excellent Education, agreed, “Teachers have to be better trained on how to use data,” if schools are to see the kind of transformation many envision for U.S. school systems.

Another critical step to jumpstarting the use of data in schools is getting more policymakers “to look at how data is being used and at how things are actually working in the classroom,” said Brendan Dessetti, director of education policy at SIIA, a software and digital content trade group.

Sarah Holland, public policy manager at Google, added, “Providers have a special responsibility to explain the value of data in education,” especially to parents who often say, “ ‘I don’t know enough about what’s going on in my student’s classroom.’ “


Read the full report here.

Wyatt Kash

Written by Wyatt Kash

Wyatt Kash is an award-winning editor and journalist who has been following government IT trends for the past decade. He joined Scoop News Group in June 2014, as Vice President of Content Strategy, where he heads up the company's content strategy and editorial product development. Prior to joining SNG, Mr. Kash served as Editor of , where he developed content and community relations for the government technology market, covering big data, cloud computing, cybersecurity, enterprise architecture, mobile technology, open government and leadership trends. Previously, he co-led an AOL start team, where he helped create, launch, manage and market an online news platform, featuring advanced social media strategies, aimed at government, defense and technology industry executives. Mr. Kash has also held positions with The Washington Post Co. and subsequently 1105 Media, as Editor-in-Chief of and , where he directed editorial strategy and content operations for print, online, and mobile products and industry events. Contact the writer at or on Twitter at @wyattkash.

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