Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Investing in Data Systems: Like a Good Workout

By Rick Hess — June 04, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As states and districts wrestle with strapped budgets, and as advocates push Congress to include this or that pet cause in the reauthorization of NCLB (nee ESEA), it’s worth taking a moment to point out the development of new data systems that are increasingly putting districts in a position to track student progress, identify effective and ineffective practices and educators, and give leaders cover to take a firmer line when addressing poor performers. Like a trip to the gym, these steps can feel like drudgery and they don’t deliver much immediate gratification--but they can make a big difference in the long term.

While often relegated to the care of statisticians and policy-wonks, school data systems hold the potential to help district leaders enact dramatic changes in school management (see “The Numbers We Need,” a piece I penned a year ago with Harvard’s Jon Fullerton, for much more on this). Historically, superintendents and other district leaders have enacted one short-lived reform after another because the pressure to be “doing something” gave them greater incentives to favor fast and furious change rather than slow, incremental reforms.

If superintendents are able to hold themselves and others accountable for measurable improvements on key indicators, however, this pressure for quick action can be channeled more constructively. With improved data systems able to track improvement in teacher hiring, retention of employees, delivery of texts and materials, or school maintenance and safety, leaders can demonstrate progress in attracting quality educators, addressing needs, and wringing out inefficiencies, thus winning time to bring longer-term strategies to fruition.

When districts can marry information on operations and activities to particular educational outcomes, principals and teachers can, in turn, gauge relative program effectiveness and conduct meaningful cost-benefit analysis at the school or even classroom level. Such data systems permit districts to track unit cost granularly, meaning that districts could know the relative costs for each teacher recruited by The New Teacher Project compared to its own human resources operation, and the relative effectiveness of teachers coming from each route--making possible evidence-based decisions about the value of alternatives.

To help districts leverage the power of data, the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS)--which represents 66 of the nation’s largest urban school districts--has recently developed a series of Key Performance Indicators to give administrators the tools to track their spending patterns and benchmark “dollars and cents” performance. These data can highlight inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. For instance, CGCS surveys show that some districts utilize only 69% of their bus fleets on a daily basis. In a district with a 100-bus fleet, boosting that percentage to the national median of 86% could save the district in question $320,000. CGCS has a raft of similar measures addressing finances, human resources, and operations that, collectively, can readily help most districts identify savings of millions of dollars a year.

Addressing these areas promises to provide districts with revealing data and cost-effectiveness analyses and inform difficult decisions on spending. Good data systems themselves are something like a good piece of workout equipment. They won’t magically improve your health or make you fit, but, when used as intended, they can help firm up flabby bureaucracies and free up dollars to drive improvement.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP