Schools, districts, and states collect lots of data. In fact, schooldistricts today are gathering more information about students,teachers, and schools than ever before. New layers of educationpolicy demand accountability for results in varying ways. Buthow often is that data accessed and analyzed in order to supportbreakthrough decisions? How often does data inform fundamentalpolicy shifts, strategic management decisions, or curriculumchanges? Unfortunately, not often enough.
The Strategic DataProject (SDP) intends to change this.
Since 2008, SDP has partnered with school districts, charterschool networks, and state education agencies to bring highquality research methods and data analysis to bear on strategicmanagement and policy decisions. Housed at the Center forEducation Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University, SDP wasformed on two fundamental premises: (1) policy and managementdecisions can directly influence schools’ and teachers’ abilityto improve student achievement; and (2) valid and reliable dataanalysis significantly improves the quality of decision making.Our theory of action is that if we bring together the right people,assemble the right data, and perform the right analysis, wecan improve the decisions that leaders make such that studentachievement improves significantly.To fulfill this model, SDP pursues three major strategies:1) placing top-notch analytic leaders as “Fellows” for two yearswith our partners (e.g. school district, charter school network, orstate education agency); 2) conducting rigorous diagnostic analysisof teacher effectiveness and college-going success using agencydata; and 3) disseminating our tools, methods, and lessons learnedto many more education agencies. The findings that emerge fromour diagnostic work will generate a growing demand for reliableresearch and data analysis, fundamentally altering the waydecisions are made in public education.
SDP DATA DIAGNOSTICS
The second major strategy of SDP is to conduct what we call“diagnostic analyses” using agency data in two core areas: (1)
(primarily focusing on teacher effectiveness) and(2)
college-going success and attainment for students
. Thesetwo focus areas were selected precisely because of the leveragethey offer. Research consistently shows that the effectiveness of astudent’s teacher has the most impact on that student’s opportunityto improve; getting a student to successful high school graduation(and beyond) dramatically shapes the opportunities for thatstudent’s future.The diagnostics are a set of analyses that frame actionablequestions for education leaders. For example: How successfullyare they recruiting effective teachers? How long do teachersstay? Where do they teach in the system? How well do ourstudents stay on-track for high school graduation? How well dostudents transition to postsecondary education? We developedthese analyses after closely examining the data available inmany districts and states and working with education leaders tounderstand their core questions.These analyses are literally “diagnostic” in nature. That is, theygenerate findings, but do not provide information about the causesof those findings. So, just as when a physician observes that apatient’s blood pressure or cholesterol is high, the measure itselfdoes not explain the cause. What typically ensues is a conversationbetween the patient and the doctor—and, likely, more analysis—which leads to an understanding of possible root causes andbehavior or lifestyle changes that could help address the diagnosis.There are four major goals for the diagnostics:1. Convey actionable and salient information about teachereffectiveness and postsecondary transitions to our partners.2. Build a body of work that relays the findings of similar analysesacross a growing number of agencies, allowing for comparisonand identification of best practices.3. Demonstrate to agencies what can be done with the increasingamount of data they are collecting (primarily for compliancepurposes, but which also can be used to deeply understandperformance).4. Develop an industry-standard set of metrics that becomes“need-to-know” information about any education agency,not unlike the price-to-earnings ratio for a publicly tradedcompanies.
Transforming the use of data in education to improve student achievement.