The Data Imperative, Part II: Solving Education’s Data Challenges

The Data Imperative, Part II: Solving Education’s Data Challenges

Editor’s note: This week, EP is posting a three-part series about challenges of data use in education from a recent report from Mathematica Policy Research, how to solve those challenges, and how we can harness the power of data. In Part I of this series, we talk about challenges in using data in education.

Big data isn’t going anywhere.  In fact, it will only get bigger as we gather more and more information everywhere.

In education specifically, how can we embrace data? And as a lot more information comes at us, how can we improve how we work with volumes of new information to inform key decisions?

In Mathematica Policy Research’s report on data use and capacity in education organizations (and assessment of EP Analyst Fellows), two thematic “lessons learned” emerge from a majority of the report’s agencies.

These are immediately actionable for many organizations:

1.      Create a data culture. [Tweet this.]

“The first question a data-driven organization asks itself is not ‘What do we think?’ but ‘What do we know?’ This requires a move away from acting solely on hunches and instinct.” ­ – Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, Harvard Business Review

To create a data culture, start at the top. Leaders must embrace data use at all levels. Talk about it in meetings, train staff to become more comfortable with using current and new systems, and approach the cultural change as purposefully as you would any other. [Tweet this.]

Of the agencies who reported the importance of a data culture in Mathematica’s report, some newer agencies were able to establish data use from the beginning, while other established organizations took steps to restructure and hire data-savvy staff to make data a priority.

As a result, data became critical to inform many types of work at these organizations, from instruction, to grants, news reports, school openings and closings, and more.

2.      Invest in data-savvy human capital. [Tweet this.]

“Big data’s power does not erase the need for vision or human insight.” – Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, Harvard Business Review

Data are only powerful when organizations have people who can make them powerful. [Tweet this.] People who can ask the right questions to gather the right information, who have the skills to analyze the data they collect, and who then can implement their findings in meaningful ways.

Investing in data-savvy human capital means both developing current staff and bringing in new people who have critical data skills that your organization is lacking.[Tweet this.]

In Mathematica’s report, agencies reported training staff on how to use the data warehouse, tapping the expertise of their fellows to informally teach staff how to create Excel graphs or tables, and also hiring data experts permanently.

To better serve all students, education needs strong leaders who can set bold visions for their organization, create thriving organizational cultures that value data to reach ambitious goals, and hire talented people who can interpret significant volumes of data and make meaning of them.

Information is power: let’s harness it.

Next up in Part III: Harnessing the power of big data to make big changes in education.

If your organization needs technically skilled data experts who can conduct complex analyses, Education Pioneers can meet those human capital needs.

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Eugine Chung Eugine Chung is the Vice President of Strategy & Learning for Education Pioneers (EP) and an EP Alumna. She is responsible for ensuring that EP is guided by a strategy that enables us to maximize our impact, respond to our partners’ needs, and adapt based on findings from evaluation. Eugine has a passion for developing leaders who can bring transformative change to ensure every child receives a high quality education.

By Eugine Chung, January 29, 2015