Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

New Website to Aid School Leaders in Making Critical Decisions

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Are the students in your school district ready for college? What percent are enrolled in prekindergarten? What is the racial and ethnic makeup of your schools?

The answers to such questions are critically important to determining the best education for your students. With that in mind, the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Center for Public Education has launched a new website, www.data-first.org, designed to guide school board members, administrators, and the public on how to find out important facts about their schools–in real, everyday situations.

The website, which is part of a larger project funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was designed to explain how different types of education data can help school boards produce real improvement in schools. The data can be used to empower school board members and others to use solid evidence and facts to make tough decisions.

“School board members and others need solid evidence and facts in order to make tough decisions,” said Patte Barth, the Center's Director. “The Data First website provides education data, research and tools to help school leaders make sure their policies will result in higher student achievement.”

Data First allows users to take a quiz on their data literacy, guides users through the questions they should ask, and even allows users to submit their own questions about data. Additionally, local communities, organizations, and the media can use the Data First's tools to analyze information and proposals that affect schools, teachers, and students. 

Redundant! and ill-informed!

Redundant! and ill-informed! The site is state data, which have been and are available in many different settings already. The approach is typical of the ill-informed Gates Foundation interventions which collect massive amounts of irrelevant data and obscure simple, concrete and specific data points which can influence timely decisions on behalf of the most vulnerable children. Typically, the DataFirst formats are attractive, involving, and pretty, but obscure very simple information like how many children are retained in grade (held back) at key years, and how attendance data, used in a timely fashion, can reduce that hideous waste and most reliable indicator of early dropout decisions.

For years Gates funded a Standard & Poors indicator system which, like S&P's indicators for more traditional economic metrics, obscured very simple but far more consequent factors like grade retention or the correlation between test scores, attendance, and grades. Eventually they woke up and cut the funding, but only after some - probably many - districts had manipulated these data to produce high "gain scores" at the expense of hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of extra, redundant, and destructive years of schooling of students who, often with great justice, saw the waste of further wasting time chasing data they could find elsewhere in a keystroke.

Until or unless your data are finely grained enough to identify such systemic problems, hold off from publishing stuff that hides the important while touting superficialities.

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Your link is dead. What is

Your link is dead. What is the source of your data??

I don't know what link you

I don't know what link you mean, but the SchoolMatters site, long funded by Gates, is/was here http://www.schoolmatters.com/, and the state data I most commonly use, as a Massachusetts resident, is here http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/. Most of the Data First website is a buzz of shortcuts to the data from state sites like Massachusetts, and most school systems, either independently or through their state, have much better data available to the curious parent or teacher or student - often in several languages. The Data First model looks good, but most information that people could really use is local, or at least school district based, and that is difficult to drill down through the Data First national and statewide generalities.

If the National School Boards Association really wanted to be helpful, they'd offer what is not normally offered by such sources: languages, cultural information, after-school partnerships, as well as historical information about districts who are improving and how they're doing it. Instead, it's all the same-old-same-old. There's a logical reason why local school boards don't want you to see these comparisons, since they are the ones with the primary responsibility, but that would be imputing self-interest in their data selection. We would certainly not expect that kind of self-defensive design! Hardly!

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