It’s every gift wrapper’s nightmare: you assemble your small army of presents, gather the rolls of wrapping paper, slice off a colorful sheet, begin folding your origami masterpiece—then you freeze, mid-fold, when you remember you forgot the tape.
Strangely enough, this familiar scene captures a dilemma we see in many school districts we work with: More and more education leaders are making bold moves to put data at the center of their decision-making (something we call “data-informed,” not “data-driven,” since we believe that judgment and experience go alongside data). But the data infrastructure they rely on has crucial gaps that make it hard to actually use the data in productive and nimble ways. They’ve got the presents, the paper, the scissors—but no tape.
For example, we work with large urban school systems and states on their human capital systems. Many of our partners want to try strategies like paying raises based on effectiveness, creating leadership roles for highly qualified teachers, and providing incentives for teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools and subjects. They would like to understand the distribution of novice or highly effective teachers across schools and even across grades, or how potential changes to the benefits package will affect their compensation budget. But district leaders might discover some of the following “data infrastructure gaps”:
These “data infrastructure gaps” are not deliberately placed barriers but often hidden obstacles that district leaders do not realize are there until they start to lean on their data infrastructure in new ways. We recommend that forward-thinking districts conduct a “data inventory” to understand the linkage, timeline, and structural gaps that could keep them from performing robust modeling and decision-making. Some areas to consider include:
By performing a “data inventory” now, district leaders will be well positioned to take on bold new, data-informed processes in the future. It's getting all the wrapping supplies together, before you start to fold.
For a greater discussion of district data sources—and how the state can support districts in using this data well—check out Spinning Straw into Gold: How state education agencies can transform their data to improve critical school resource decisions.
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