Observations on the data landscape

We’re big on data here at Deans for Impact. Collecting, sharing, and using data to drive change is one of our guiding principles. There’s universal agreement among our member deans about the need to build a more data-rich environment, as I noted in a recent post. And my colleague Pete wrote last week about the importance of educational measurement to efforts to improve at scale.

Given our commitment to learning from and with professional colleagues in the field, it was only natural that we would connect with the folks over at the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to empowering educators, parents, and policymakers with quality information. Through an annual survey, the DQC collects information about state data use, such as whether states share data with their in-state educator-preparation programs and, if so, what types of data they disseminate.

After spending some time talking with colleagues at DQC and browsing through publicly available reports, I came away with three key takeaways:

The data landscape is actually better than I expected. To be sure, there is lots of room for improvement. But 22 states automatically share data on teachers’ classroom performance, as measured by things such as student growth data and course outcomes, with in-state educator-preparation programs – up from just six states in 2011. Twenty-five states share information on teachers’ employment status, including whether they’ve left the education field. Forty-four states have at least a basic “Teacher Student Data Link” up and running, and 16 of those states meet all four of the DQC’s criteria for a high-quality Teacher Student Data Link. I would argue that, for many states, the basic building blocks are there. Is it enough? No, not by a long shot. But the data landscape certainly looks better than it did just a few years ago, so I think it’s worth highlighting the progress that’s been made. Now what’s needed is a concerted, collaborative effort to build on that foundation and provide preparation programs with the necessary information to fuel a process of continuous improvement.

There are tensions between data privacy and data access. The security of our data systems is critically important – not just for its own sake but also for generating buy-in for efforts to collect and share data. At the same time, the need to protect privacy should be balanced with the need for data access and usage to inform decision. Organizations that care about access to outcomes data need to make an argument for why these data are important and how they can be collected and shared safely and securely. In a letter written in support of the proposed Title II regulations, the member deans of Deans for Impact made a strong case for the importance of identifying a core data set that’s collected across all states: “Without data collected through commonly established standards and made publicly available, teacher-preparation programs – including our own – will be unable to drive evidence-based continuous improvement.”

Where’s the political will for expanding these efforts? Now the flip side of the positive note I struck earlier in this post: Given the clear demand for more and better data (at least from some corners of the educator-preparation field), why aren’t we even further along in efforts to build a robust, outcomes-focused data environment? I suspect it comes down, in many cases, to a lack of political will. From tight state budgets to public outcry over data privacy to ongoing concerns about how data will be used for accountability purposes, there are plenty of concerns at which people can point to avoid pushing for more and better data collection and dissemination. We need to find a way to overcome those concerns and to muster the political will necessary to develop and collect quality information that empowers educators, researchers and policymakers.

Charis Anderson

Senior Director of Communications

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