Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 10
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > TRACKING NEWS AND IDEAS IN EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY
Schools Struggle to Use Data to Get Better
By Benjamin Herold
Can educational data be used to actually
help schools get better?
That's the hope behind a push to bring to K-12
schools a management philosophy known as
"continuous improvement" that has flourished
in fields such as health care, manufacturing, and
But experts contend that the K-12 education
system's current data infrastructure, built in
response to the federal No Child Left Behind
Law and focused primarily on holding schools
accountable, looms as a significant barrier.
"New data systems really have to allow [teachers and principals] to say what they want to
accomplish, and determine whether they've accomplished it," said Louis Gomez, a professor of
education and information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a co-author
of the 2015 book, Learning to Improve, How
America's Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. "Just monitoring how we're doing is not going
to help us get better."
Examples of what an improvement-based data
infrastructure actually looks like in practice are
few and far between.
Wisconsin's 4,000-student Menomenee school
district is lauded for using a comprehensive approach to steadily improving everything from
recess safety to the cleanliness of its classrooms,
but educators and administrators there have
relied on mostly informal systems for collecting
and analyzing information. (See Education Week,
Feb. 7, 2018)
The 400,000-student Chicago school district
has been at the forefront of efforts to use 'earlywarning' data to keep high school students on
track to graduation and college, but such work
typically relies on existing data systems to support a narrowly targeted improvement project.
And the New York-based nonprofit New Visions
for Public Schools has taken the lead on developing brand new data systems designed to help
schools collect and track the kinds of "process
data" that continuous-improvement proponents
describe as critical, but such tools remain on the
fringes of the K-12 sector.
Far more typical are districts like Dallas,
where budget woes and leadership churn have
hampered efforts to build and use data systems
in new ways.
As a field, education has "placed tremendous
emphasis on data for accountability purposes,"
said Mark Dunetz, the president of New Visions
for Public Schools."We've done a much poorer
job at providing practitioners with the tools they
need to manage the types of tasks that are the
day-to-day bread and butter of schools, and that
enable everything else to happen."
Little Impact on Teaching
The idea of schools making better use of educational data is nothing new.
Back in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education described data-driven decision making as a
"national priority," saying that states and school
districts had made significant progress in building a new data infrastructure.
But in a report that year titled "Use of Education Data at the Local Level: From Accountabil-
how we're doing
is not going to help
us get better."
ity to Instructional Improvement," the department also concluded that such work was having
little impact on actual classroom teaching.
"School staffs' perception of barriers to greater
use of data include a sense of lack of time, system-usability issues, the perception that the data
in the system are not useful, and district policies
around curriculum coverage or pacing that prohibit modifying learning time to match student
needs," the report concludes.
Fast forward eight years, and the lingo has
changed, but such challenges are still endemic,
Educators and Finance Officers Team Up for Better Budgeting
By Sarah D. Sparks
Having a plan to tackle your school
district's critical problems doesn't
mean you have the money to pay for
it, and many districts find their bestlaid improvement plans can fall apart
with just one state budget cut or failed
local bond issue.
That's why a growing number of districts nationwide are working to bring
together educators and budget officers
early and often, to make sure budgets
support the most critical priorities.
"One of the hardest things is when
you talk about academic [return on
investment], educators are not used
to putting a dollar sign on students;
they look at quality education and
what's best for the kids," said Claire
Hertz the Beaverton, Ore., district's
chief financial officer. "And I look
at dollar signs, but I don't necessarily know what's most important
instructionally," she said. "We each
bring a strength and a source of data
to each other."
Beaverton is one of a rapidly expanding network of districts in the
Smarter School Spending coalition,
which uses so-called "continuous improvement" tools to integrate budget
and academic staff and planning in
schools. Instead of a small circle of
staff poring over spreadsheets in marathon budget meetings once or twice
a year, the districts involve everyone
from finance officers and principals to
teachers and janitors in ongoing conversations about solving instructional
problems in sustainable ways.
The network expanded from a 2013
pilot by the Chicago-based Government Finance Officers Association in
four districts, to more than 60 districts
nationwide. Through joint training,
model budgets, and other activities,
districts use the network to bring
together budget and program staff
to learn how to identify educational
priorities, align spending to support
them, and then test how well those
investments are sustained and pay off.
Matt Bubness, the senior manager
of the school-spending network for
the finance association, said this more
holistic approach to budget planning
helps districts cope with both state
and federal budget cuts and the "continuous improvement plans" several
states now encourage under the Every
Student Succeeds Act.
"We found pretty early on that it
didn't really matter so much whether
they were large or small, or even
whether they were a high flier or
maybe two steps away from a state
takeover, there were common budget
challenges" across districts, he said.
Building a Plan
Before joining the network, staffers from Fulton County, Ga., public
schools met each quarter to adjust
funding streams to schools.
"We realized we had 72 different
formulas for allocations; that's a lot,"
said Marvin Dereef, Fulton County's
deputy chief financial officer. The formulas governed everything from textbooks to teachers, but in discussions
that came after joining the network,
Fulton County's budget team found
that some funding formulas in the
$1.3 billion budget had nothing to
do with the district's priorities. Often
principals weren't even sure why they
received the money they did.
"It came up a lot: 'I don't know
why that's the formula; we've just
been doing it that way for the last 30
years,'" Dereef said. "We realized we
were not really evaluating the formula. ... We were just getting someone's opinion that they need more
Instead of funding based only on
the formulas, a working group including budget staff, administrators,
and curricular leaders have been
looking at the historical costs of
each program funded and how well
it aligns to district goals and federal
10 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 21, 2018 | www.edweek.org
or state requirements. For all funding streams or programs that have
been in place three years or more, or
those that had been changed during
administrative transitions, the team
is evaluating their effectiveness and
relevancy over time.
"It's a work in progress," Dereef said.
"We've got the pillars, the big framework, and now we are at the point of
moving on our new strategic plan."
In another network district, Columbus, Ohio, Scott Gooding came
in as budget director in 2014, on the
heels of a turnover in superinten-
We each bring a
strength and a source
of data to each other."
Chief Financial Officer
dents and a very difficult and failed
tax referendum. The district had
typically based departments' future
budgets on what they had received
the previous year-a common strategy but one Gooding said tended to
encourage schools and programs to
"We get so focused on the 'how
much' that we lose sight of what those
dollars are being spent for," Gooding
said. "It's a very different conversation
if someone asks, 'Why is your budget
going up by $15 million next year?' ...
if that is going to ensure all of our 3rd
graders know how to read."
In Columbus, Gooding said the
process has made budget discussions
more inclusive and helped head off
problems. During one recent budget
meeting, a high school administrator
wanted to create a computer lab in an
unused classroom. The district's buildings manager, who was also on hand,
pointed out that the room had not
been wired for the electronics, and the
group was able to brainstorm ways
to adapt the room and work around
the issue. If the wiring issue had been
discovered after the computers had
already been ordered, Gooding said,
it would have been more costly and
harder to fix the problem.
Gaps in Implementation
Understanding budget priorities also helped officials in the
Menomonee Falls, Wis., school district,
another member school system, focus
more on implementation, according to
Corey Golla, the district's curriculum
and learning director.
"When you know how expensive
it is to change resources or change
curriculum, we start thinking, have
we really given what we have a fair
shake?" he said.
For example, Golla noted that the
school board voiced disappointment
in a new math curriculum, which
hadn't led to improvements in student
achievement in the three years since it
had been installed.
"Though we're seeing improvement
in some areas, we're flat-lining in
some. That's the time when most districts would be looking around to see
what else is out there," Golla said. "We
chose to look at the consistency of our
implementation, and we learned that,
in some cases, 20 to 25 percent of the
curriculum wasn't even being taught.
And I'm confident we can get better
results because we had teams that
were getting better results."
Instead of buying new textbooks,
the district has focused on more professional development on the existing
math program for teachers.
In Columbus, the new process has
also helped the district win more support for its $1.4 billion budget for fis-
cal 2018 and voters passed new levies
and bonds for the district's operating,
capital, and school improvement budgets in 2016.
"We had a history of budget cuts
after budget cuts after budget cuts
every year," Gooding said. "Instead of
selling incremental budgeting, 3 percent for the next five years, we could
tell voters exactly what would happen
when, and why."
Beaverton, like many network
districts, reached out to the group in
2013 as it struggled with how to meet
a critical goal-raising the district's 77
percent graduation rate-while also
having to cut 15 percent of its teachers in response to shrinking state and
Instead of just putting money toward existing high school programs,
a team of 13 educators, administrators, and finance staff met weekly and
monthly to review data and find the
"root cause" of the poor graduation
rates. They found, for example, that
special education students did not
enter 9th grade ready to pass gradelevel algebra and physics classes. They
needed to build a stronger math foundation in middle school, but general
education math teachers did not get
sufficient training on supporting students with special needs.
As a result, the district invested in
co-training of general and special education teachers in lower grades, and
piloted three secondary programs to
help students stay on track to graduation. Within three years, the district
identified one particularly effective
program and rolled it out districtwide.
Four-year graduation rates are now
at an all-time high.
Coverage of continuous improvement
strategies in education is supported
in part by a grant from the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at
Week retains sole editorial control over
the content of this coverage.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 21, 2018
Education Week - March 21, 2018
A Teachable Moment For 2nd Amendment
Student Walkout Taps Well of Anger, Sadness
Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
News in Brief
N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Educators and Finance Officers Team Up for Better Budgeting
Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Response to Shooting Begins to Take Shape
lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
DeVos Still Challenged In Delivering Message
Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
MARY BETH TINKER: I Stand With the Students
FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 9
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 11
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 15
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 16
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 17
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 21
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 25
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 27
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW4