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Can data help improve underperforming schools?

Posted November 24, 2008 9:10 AM by Ted Jackson

There has always been a big focus in the nonprofit community on helping improve public schools in America. Recently, I have seen a lot of information written about how foundations and others are helping schools use data to learn about what works and to drive results.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is focused in two areas for their education strategy. The first is ensuring that high school prepares students for college, and the second is ensuring that the college degree is relevant. Focusing on their "College-Ready" initiative, several points stand out to me. Their working paper from November 2008 points out that it is important to "identify a core set of standards and measures of student progress that are focused on the skills students need to succeed in higher education and good jobs." The foundation also says it will focus on "designing measures, observational and evaluation tools, and data systems that can fairly and accurately identify effective teaching." Finally, they state "We need better data to tell us if we are making progress...We need evidence, and we need to go where it takes us."

We can also see evidence of measurement in action at the school level through the deployment of SchoolStat at several schools. SchoolStat is a modification of the much touted CompStat program that allowed the New York City Police Department to reduce crime so effectively in the early 90s. This program has been used at the City level with a program called CitiStat, and recently has been used in schools as well. The Philadelphia School district as well as Baltimore and Washington, DC have deployed a version of this program that focuses on metrics to identify problem areas and create solutions. These programs have shown demonstrated results in reducing teacher absences, decreasing student absences, and increasing student performance.

Further, Fulton County Schools in Atlanta has received awards for the performance of its Balanced Scorecard program. Using measurement, they have aligned the teachers and staff in their schools to what matters, and they have shared best practices based on what the data has told them. Each week, I read about other schools implementing the Balanced Scorecard. San Francisco was in the news last week on this topic.

It is exciting to see performance management and data-driven decision making enter the public sector, and it gives us some hope that the ongoing efforts to improve our schools are beginning to leverage technology and information through measurement to make a difference and document the factors that helped make the improvement. I look forward to reading about more successes in the future.

I concur that the use of data has resulted in incremental changes in schools and districts, but what we need is systemic change. The use of data and programs like SchoolStat are certainly interesting steps forward, but they miss the point. Few school systems have defined their strategy for success. In fact, the performance metrics that many school systems are using were initiated by outside organizations or programs (e.g. NCLB). Identifying and following through with a strategy is a necessary condition to being successful with performance metrics. School systems cannot simply have a strategy of doing better on external accountability, it just won't work.

All of that said, I have a question. What process, methodology, approach do you recommend for government organizations to use in aligning their budget to their balanced scorecard?
# Posted By Joseph Miller | 1/11/09 10:12 PM
You make an important point about the outcome measures being inusfficient to drive a strategy. For instance the Opinion page in teh Wall Street Journal oday, January 12,2009 features a discussion about charter schools. They rely on statistics such as in Detroit only 34% of black males graduate and that in Washginton DC only 9% of ninth graders graduate and then finish college in five years to state the gravity of the situation.

Clearly monitoring these data are not a strategy - you are right in that there is a need for an underlying strategy. No Child Left Behind suggests some measures that might point the way to diagnose the problem but the solution lies below that. We need insight into the driver measures that can turn these results around. Why is it that KIPP schools have closed the achievement gap for minority students? well it is their focus on instruction. Let's gain some insight into strategy by looking at the type of teachers, quality of curriculum and competetiveness of pay.
# Posted By Laura Downing | 1/12/09 1:30 PM
Aligning Budget with the Strategy in Government

A few government agencies have taken the step to closely align the budgeting process with the strategy. they have done so by apportioning funds to the major components of hte strategy - often called themes. The FBI, for instance, clearly aligns expenditures with the major components of the strategy map. The US Army used a similar if less rigorous approach. The key point is to begin with the strategy and move dollars accordingly.

On January 7, 2009 the American Council for Technology - Industry Advisory Council(Transition Study Group)-Just released a white paper entitled "New Strategic Performance Integrated Process Needed". This white paper outlines the method of integrating budgeting and strategy in some detail based upon the principles outlined in "Execution Premium: Linking Strategy to Operations for Completetive Advantage" It takes the budgeting process and places the strategy or performance improvement plan in the center of the planning process to ensure decisions are made throughout the process based on the strategy.
# Posted By Laura Downing | 1/12/09 1:41 PM

Do you know where I can get a copy of the white paper from American Council for Technology - Industry Advisory Council (Transition Study Group)? A little hard to come by searching the Internet.

# Posted By Joseph Miller | 1/12/09 8:28 PM
Please consult IAC's web site.
# Posted By Laura Downing | 3/26/09 4:35 PM
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