The following letter to the editor of Education Week was published on October 14, 2014.
To the Editor:
The Vanderbilt University research profiled in "Study: Teacher Data Remain Untapped" (Sept. 10, 2014) is an important contribution to our nation's efforts to improve education for children in low-income communities. In particular, the study provides crucial insight into how the most effective principals use data to generate positive change in their schools, and the role school systems have in supporting principals.
The study reinforces a central fact of a principal's life in today's data-rich context: The job of a school leader has radically changed.
Today's most effective principals not only have access to data, but they also have a fundamental understanding of what the data mean and the actions they imply. In my experience at Education Resource Strategies—an organization that has partnered with hundreds of school leaders—the most "effective" principals are most likely to succeed in the districts that provide significant training and support to help them. These districts use data primarily as an improvement tool, not as a "gotcha" kind of accountability.
In light of how the principal's role has evolved, it is incumbent upon district leaders to ensure school leaders are well equipped to use the availability of teacher-effectiveness data to make strategic school-level resource decisions.
As the Vanderbilt study proves, having the data is just not enough. But with strategic tools and system support, the data can have huge implications for student learning.