Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership
In an upcoming Teachers College Record article (early draft available here), Jeff Wayman and I argue that parents need to get more involved with data use. For the record, I don’t mean in the way that this “data-driven parent” is talking about. It’s actually a little hard for me to read, let alone talk about. Some of the stuff, especially around trying to feed and care for a newborn is pretty reasonable. At first I thought the only unreasonable part was that she wasn’t using one of the many free apps for these things.
But then she lost me. I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there who are willing to explain her logic, then explain its fallacies. I don’t have the constitution for it.
But I do think it’s worth for a moment thinking back to those early days of parenthood, when one is stressed and sleep deprived. What data mattered? How did you know it was the “right data?” How did you know what it might mean? It was comforting to have “experts” tell us these things. At some point, especially as kids get older, there are just too many moving pieces to accurately measure and digest from a spreadsheet.
People react to stress differently: whining, smoking, eating, drinking, belting out the Cyndi Lauper, etc. If keeping lots of data in a spreadsheet is a “stress reaction” (the author does describe significant anxiety when she first started), then it seems pretty innocuous. Except, of course, for where it’s not. So let’s take a moment to ponder data use in schools. NCLB had and has many schools feeling pretty stressed. It seemed like a good idea to narrow in on certain things, especially things that we were told were super important to pay attention to. And some people complain that the data we have aren’t good measures or actionable. Others might suggest that the actions we do take (e.g., focusing on bubble kids at the expense of others) aren’t so great.
What are we to do? Jeff and I say this differently in the article, but at some point parents and communities need to have larger conversations about schooling and what it’s really about. If possible, we need to take the stress out of those events. What you “know” determines what you call “data” and how you “use” it. Open conversations help reshape “what’s important.” For example, if community were to realize that social/emotional development was important but unattended to in their schools’ data practices, then they might begin finding ways to measure and to use such data.
In fact, I’m about to launch a study about Catholic schools and the sources of data they find helpful to serving the “whole kid.” Although I understand that this might be rare, some are beginning to use information about spiritual development, commitment to service, etc. I don’t know what I’ll find, but I think it’ll raise important points for the field of education.
[A little background on some of the analyses I’ll do.]