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K-12 data is failing students-here’s what education could look like

A new report offers insight and 7 steps policymakers can take to better leverage data in schools.

U.S. education is not effectively leveraging data to increase student performance and close achievement gaps in the same way other sectors have used data to improve work processes, according to a new report from the Center for Data Innovation.

And while many have lamented education’s slow adoption of data-driven practices, there may be a hidden bonus to slow progress.

“The United States now has an opportunity to rebuild its education system to support data-driven education by taking advantage of technologies and best practices already established in other sectors,” noted the report.

Characteristics of a data-driven education system include personalization, evidence-based learning, school efficiency, and continuous innovation.

However, because improved data use has such a huge potential to improve education for all students, educators and administrators have to act quickly and make systemic improvements.

(Next page: 7 steps to the ideal data-use situation in K-12)

An Antiquated Model

“Schools today are not very different than they were 50 years ago,” said Joshua New, the report’s author and a policy analyst at the Center. “While most Americans are empowered by data and technology in nearly every aspect of their lives, U.S. schools are largely failing to use data to transform and improve education.”

New emphasized that the U.S. K-12 education system is falling short in both student performance and disparities in educational outcome. Yet, K-12 data has the potential to significantly improve how educators teach children and how administrators manage schools. “It’s time to bring American K-12 education into the 21st century data economy,” he said.

To combat the lackluster data use often found in K-12 education, the report also lays out a vision for K-12 that would leverage data to become more personalized, evidence-based, efficient, and innovative.

That vision includes:

1. Encouraging smarter data collection and management
2. Encouraging data system interoperability
3. Empowering students and parents with access to their data
4. Promoting data-driven decision-making
5. Pushing back against unfounded privacy fears
6. Developing a model data-driven school district
7. Using data to promote equity in education

Despite those goals, barriers including institutional resistance, hesitancy to using data in the classroom, inadequate teacher training, and privacy fears limit data use.

If those roadblocks were removed, education would look drastically different, according to the report:

  • Students could have personalized and dynamic lesson plans that address their individual strengths and weaknesses and interests rather than carry out the same exact work as their classmates of varying ability levels
  • Teachers could devote the majority of their time to delivering instructional material and ensuring student success, rather than lose valuable classroom time to administrative tasks, disruptive summative assessments, or helping bring certain students up to speed while others in the class are already comfortable with the material
  • School administrators could make much more informed decisions about how to allocate resources, ensure that students are treated equitably and take steps to address disparities, and
    better manage teachers
  • Parents could easily access their children’s data to monitor their performance, stay more engaged in the education process, and access a variety of additional educational resources that can make use of this data to provide better supplemental education

“Failure to transform the U.S. education system by leveraging data will have considerable consequences not just for individual students and taxpayers, but for U.S. productivity growth and competitiveness,” New writes. “Without a more effective education system, productivity will grow more slowly and organizations will have a harder time getting the workforce they need.”

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Laura Ascione

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