Last week, Florida had much to celebrate. Miami-Dade County Public Schools was named winner of the prestigious 2012 Broad prize, and just two days later Superintendent Alberto Carvalho received the 2012 Florida District Data Leader Award. I had the good fortune to be at both of these events and offer remarks at the Florida awards ceremony on the critical role leadership plays in changing the use of data from one of compliance and box checking to one that is used to inform and fuel continuous improvement. The following is based on my presentation.
The value of data doesn’t come with collecting it—it emerges when it is useful and actionable. That transformation doesn’t happen automatically or easily. It takes vision, persistence, strategic thinking, teamwork, courage, and significant resources—not just money, but time, energy, prioritization. Transforming data into information that can change conversations, decisions, actions, and outcomes takes leadership.
While we need to make sure we have the IT infrastructure to collect, analyze, and present quality, timely data analysis (no small feat), even more important is the focus on the people side of the equation. We have never had a better supply of rich, robust, longitudinal demand. But until we focus on the demand side of things and ensure that we are creating value for the users of this data, we will not meet our goals of using data to improve student achievement. Leadership is critical to fuel this focus on the people-side and the changes necessary to support a culture that supports data use. It requires listening to the needs of all stakeholders of our education systems and being proactively responsive. Over the years, data has gotten a bad rap in education, being seen as a hammer rather than a flashlight. But just telling educators that the data is helpful to them isn’t going to change their opinions. Leaders at all levels—state policymakers, institution and school leaders, district administrators—need to ensure data systems are customer oriented, not compliance oriented or worse, creating a culture of blame and shame.
We need leadership across the board to address the challenges to building a data-use culture:
We need to continue to ensure that our data systems are upgraded continuously to keep up with the ever increasing information demands in education. This means changing our view of data as a “project” to more of an infrastructure investment—like bridges and roads.
The most important practice and policy issues of our day require information to be shared from multiple data sources. Data must flow in many directions, especially to provide feedback across the P–20W knowledge supply chain to reinforce alignment of system efforts and goals. Similarly, we need to change the relationship between states and districts to ensure that they are working together to meet stakeholder need. The Florida State Agency’s 2012 District Data Leader Award that we gathered to celebrate last week is great evidence of this changing relationship.
We can’t wait for systems and conditions to be perfect, but we also don’t want to rush and use data for high-stakes decisions before we have built understanding, buy-in, and ownership.
Probably the most important challenge is to build trust in the data in order to successfully build a culture that values and uses data. Stakeholders, especially educators, must understand the value of data, believe it is fair, accurate, and high quality, and that it will be helpful to them.
Answers to these issues can’t be bought from a vendor or taken off the shelf readymade; they have to be built into a culture starting at the top.
Florida’s work on data systems predated most other states by a decade. It was grounded in meeting the needs of policymakers, business leaders, educators, and other stakeholders to have good information to guide resource allocation and other decisionmaking. In 2006 Florida was the first state to earn all 10 of DQC’s Essential Elements, and it leads the nation today in the number of State Actions it is taking to ensure the effective use of data.
The Bottom Line
- We all need to do our part to fuel this culture change around data. No matter what your role—legislator, parent, student, teacher, superintendent, taxpayer, voter—you need to change how you make decisions in education.
- Each of us has to embrace those attributes of the leaders we honored last week—perseverance, passion, and a focus on outcomes and continuous improvement.
This culture change means not being satisfied with just finding out how we did. Using data for continuous improvement means that we are driving the discussion to the more important questions of “so what?” and “now what?” The Florida District Data Leader Award recognizes and celebrates the district leaders who are doing exactly that.