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State Data Systems: More Than Just a Pretty Graph

EdWise, a tool developed by the Kauffman Foundation, presents over 500 different state data metrics from Kansas and Missouri districts and schools—ranging from average daily attendance to the total number of serious disciplinary infractions—in an easily searchable, readable and user-friendly format. Dr. Jeff Wayman, a pre-eminent authority on the topic of data use, and I conducted a data-use workshop in St. Louis a few weeks ago with school district personnel, nonprofits, and local government agencies represented.

Since we conducted a similar workshop in KC MO last fall, I’ve had a chance to think about a few things related to our work that might be useful to someone’s perspective on data use.

  • Some people are really innovative, especially when it comes to data use. Christopher Laubenthal, a program officer at the Kauffman Foundation, saw the deficiency of available state data and responded by developing a system to address the problem. While so many people like to discuss issues or make grand proclamations about what needs to be done, a big kudos to Christopher who is obviously a ‘doer!’

  • At one time or another, many of us have been guilty of “admiring data” and not using it to adapt. If I had to guess, I’m likely not the only one who has developed a few charts and graphs that look phenomenal (check out that trend line!), but deep down, we ask, what is the utility? It’s like endurance athletes who share all the miles they have logged but neglect to use the data in real time to improve their economy or efficiency.

  • Generally speaking, state data systems are rather antiquated. Really, how do people get decent education data in most states? I’m just thinking about your average Joe who is moving his family to a new location and would like to generate a picture of the prospective education landscape. For this purpose, NCES is a little dense., maybe? I checked out Dunbar, a historic HS in DC that I know well, on the Great Schools website. It received a 1 out of 10 ranking. Dunbar certainly has its challenges, but it’s had a huge bump in promotion and subsequent graduation rates. Test scores, too, have been trending upward. The website also listed the wrong principal. The average user isn’t going to have my inside knowledge, so how can parents get the accurate information they need?

A system like Ed Wise can help cut through the clutter for the educator and average user. So, why don’t more states have systems like Ed Wise in place? One reason might be that when organizations start talking about sharing data, they get a little squeamish out of fear that it will be used against them. This makes me wonder if the consequences of sharing certain types of data, as we’ve seen play out on the national stage linking teacher accountability to high stakes testing, for example, actually sets local municipalities back in the long run.

Just the other evening, I sat a table with public heath administrators (who work for the phenomenal Dr. Wen), educators, and social social entrepreneurs, talking about improving health and education outcomes in our city. The public health folks couldn’t imagine getting any data, let alone useful data, from the school district that would help them collectively serve children. I’m guessing law enforcement and workforce development folks would say the same thing.

Until the heads of all the major agencies-- education, law, health, justice-- come together to form a common agenda and related goals to support youth, I wonder whether all the great work happening around Baltimore will ever take root. A data system like Ed Wise could certainly help.

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