The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $15 million to a new Harvard University program designed to help build the capacity of state and school district leaders to analyze and use data for improving student achievement.
The Strategic Data Project, an initiative of Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research, is aimed at helping districts make better uses of data.
“We’ve moved into an era where districts are sitting on a whole lot of data they can use to drive decisions, but they often don’t have the expertise, or even if they have the expertise, [they don’t have] the people hours and capacity hours in-house to leverage this data to help senior leaders make strategic decisions,” said Jon Fullerton, the center’s executive director. “As a result, I think there are a lot of missed opportunities.”
The project places winners of a fellowship in a district for two years to work with central-office executives on areas of priority to district leaders. In addition, two district staffers complete the same training.
Harvard faculty and staff members train the “data fellows” and conduct practical research.
The goal, said Sarah Glover, the project’s executive director, is to have education leaders “commit to the notion that deep analysis is fundamental” for policymaking and the long-term improvement of their organizations.
Moving from the collection of student and teacher data to making its use meaningful is among the top priorities of the Obama administration, which has made the practice at the state and district levels a condition for a grant fund to be given out through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Strategic Data Project is working with six districts: Boston; the District of Columbia; Ft. Worth, Texas; Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C.; Fulton County, Ga.; and Gwinnett County, Ga. Another six education entities—a combination of states, districts, and possibly school networks—will be selected this spring as the second cohort.
A version of this article appeared in the March 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘Strategic Data Project’ Lands Grant