Surf classes for the data deluge

Editor’s note: This post was republished with permission from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s EDinsight blog.

In my blog post on the “Age of Data” I discussed the increase in sheer amount of data accessible in education–a data deluge. Deluge is an appropriate analogy, because like a flood of water, data can swirl and overwhelm. It is completely possible for someone to “sink” in these waters due to the size or scale of data and its unpredictability. But it is also possible to surf these currents, and when you do, the results can be exciting. You can do things like tailor a strategic plan to systemic concerns based on 25 years of data or find perfect partners to work with on topics special to your school, district or non-profit.

So, what is the solution? Surf class!

Well, not actually surf class, but the metaphor stands. Now that we live with this deluge of data, the next step seems obvious: learn to thrive in the flood. The appropriate term to describe these survival skills would be data literacy. What is data literacy? To quote Kauffman Education Research Director and author on the subject Edith Gummer, “data literacy is the ability to interpret data and turn it into useable, actionable information that informs policy and practice.” This definition touches on a whole set of skills that are outlined in the book referenced above.

If you are ready with your waxed board and wet suit to sign up for surf class there is one small concern.

Teachers to support your learning to surf education data are not necessarily easy to find. Schools of education tend to focus on assessment rather than literacy, and states do not necessarily have all the resources to teach enough of these classes. The funds to teach these classes could come from the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems grants. The grants themselves range from $1 million to $7 million over four years, with some funds allowable for training, but their intent was never to develop a data literate education workforce. An example of the training can be seen in the Oregon Data Project and at the federal statistical conferences of the past three years. However, it is not enough. We need more pathways to literacy learning.

Who might help you think about how to become more data literate? One group that has championed data literacy is the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). DQC is a nonprofit that launched in 2005 with an impressive number of funders and set goals around helping states build these robust education data systems. With 41 states committing funds to the sustainability of these large data systems, DQC has pivoted their focus to data use and literacy. With an impressive track record, and their dedication to these vital topics, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation decided to invest in this organization. But we know DQC will do much more than draw attention to the need for surfing classes. We know they will speak to the importance of data in our society and its use.

The bigger questions here are the extent to which the large state data systems have information of relevance to school and district continuous improvement efforts. What are the roles of longitudinal data in education reform at the classroom, school, district or state level? What kinds of surf classes do educators need to make sense of the large volumes available to them locally and at the state level? If you live in Missouri, work with a school, district or non-profit and would like to participate in a data rich discussion about these questions, please check out the Missouri Education Data Summit on June 10. It will be an excellent opportunity to discuss the data deluge with statewide leaders in education.

Christopher Laubenthal | Photo courtesy of the Kauffman Foundation

Christopher Laubenthal is a program officer in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he works to explore topics around data, education, and human capital through grants and programs.


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