Spinning Straw into Gold

How State Education Agencies can Transform their Data to Improve Critical School Resource Decisions

Stephen Frank and Joseph Trawick-Smith, December 2014

K–12 education resources are often allocated non-strategically, with schools spending time and money on activities that have little relationship to student outcomes. Most of these decisions take place within districts, rooted in the processes of setting schedules, staffing levels, and assignments, and creating final budgets. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) could dramatically improve their resource allocation by better analyzing data on how people, time, and money are used through the district, and looking for ways to better match student needs. To do that, districts have to link specific student needs to specific school interventions, and that requires merging and reconciling a range of data sets.

Most LEAs do not make this investment, but State Education Agencies (SEAs) can and do. States already use this kind of data to create public accountability reports or inform research or policy, but not typically to support local decisions. As such, they are sitting on a veritable gold mine of untapped material that could be used to support LEA resource decisions. 

By aiding local decision-makers to be more strategic, SEAs could help reallocate resources across the state without introducing a single mandate. In this paper, and an accompanying detailed appendix, we look at key decision-making processes that largely determine how people, time and money are used in LEAs. And for each process, we identify questions and metrics where the strategic use of state data would help school and district leaders make better resource decisions.

Spinning Straw Into Gold: How state education agencies can transform their data to improve critical school resource decisions (PDF)