Discussing the State of Actionable Data in American Education (Part One)

Learning Counsel Staff

Editor’s note: Read the rest of the story later this month in Part Two – how districts are beginning to explore interoperability options like middleware to solve the data disconnect.


As part of the continuing series on Knowstory Learning Groups, the Learning Counsel’s Analytics, Infrastructure & Security Learning Group examined the state of data analytics and actionability in a recent nationwide virtual meeting.

The Learning Counsel is a research institute and news media hub headquartered in Sacramento. Its membership includes approximately 215,000 superintendents and assistant superintendents, technology and instructional administrators, curriculum specialists, education publishers and educational leaders from pre-k through higher ed.

As the Learning Counsel helps guide education professionals through the shift to digital curriculum, they have become an intermediary between schools and technology companies, helping educators navigate the $23 Billion curriculum industry to find positive outcomes for their learners.

Schools and districts work with The Learning Counsel to find help transitioning to digital curriculum, gain awareness of new resources and write their goals and policies.

One of the benefits for Learning Counsel members is KnowStory, an agnostic sharing and recommendations platform designed to help schools with needed discovery and analysis related to digital content and curriculum. KnowStory Learning Groups explore vital topics and catalyze the curriculum industry. Each group has a sponsored (industry) chairmanship role as well as an education-side chairperson, live meetings online and an in-person working meeting at the Learning Counsel National Gathering each year. 

In attendance at the virtual meeting were school superintendents, technology directors, charter school representatives, industry representatives, education consultants and researchers, as well as members of the Learning Counsel. At stake was the accessibility and utility of school data, and the group learned that data interoperability and utility were all over the map, with some districts excelling in some areas and other districts excelling in others. No one school or district in America has the process completely worked out, although the general consensus was that the Houston Independent School District has taken the process further than any other.

Leilani Cauthen, CEO of the Learning Counsel said “There seems to be two tracks to this. There are folks who are trying to get at the education analytics and they're running into the interoperability of the information that gets generated, where it can go and what we can do with it. And then there is an overwhelming amount of data on the operational side. There's still a long way to go.”

“In terms of manual-to-digital school leadership, most schools across the country are coming up, but still not necessarily at the practitioner level where they're professionally leading applied data. They're still in the reporting functions, trying to gather data across disparate systems in order to do reports. They're not flipping that paradigm to have the data collated across multiple data types to be used comparatively, such as looking at social-emotional at the same time they are looking at math scores. Most school districts are still in their infancy, but state level data tends to be fairly sophisticated.”

Kristy Sailors is the Director for Education Technology for Houston ISD. Though her district is considered one of the most sophisticated in the use of data, she still has challenges. “We don't have the amount of analytics that we want at this time,” said Sailors. “I don't think anybody does. We're able right now, through our learning management system and some of our analytical tools, to tell you what the kids are doing, how long they were on, where they’re looking, and the time of day that they're accessing the learning management system but we are not able to determine how they are interacting with the instructional content. We can get down to the detail of ‘Did they click on a specific learning object,’ but we don't know how long they were actually on that specific object. Once the object opens, it seems like there's a hole, if you will, in what we can identify. We have more than most. We just don't have enough, in my opinion, to get us where we want to go.”

Gisela Albuquerque Weise is an Education Industry Market Specialist for Canon USA, Helping K-12 School Districts streamline workflows, boost collaboration and create sustainable, flexible learning environments.  She serves as the Industry Chairperson and sponsor of the Analytics, Infrastructure & Security group. Weise brought up the pressing issue of data protection, and said “The recent GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation that came out of Europe, established new standards for data privacy rights and are bound to spawn new US regulation, such as the California digital privacy law, will make this matter even more complicated.  Educators must walk a fine line between harvesting relevant data and compile good data sets to feed the teaching and learning process, and at the same time take steps to protect personal information and mitigate the risks of data breach, understanding there will be no such thing as completely securing the data. I'm interested in knowing if others have any thoughts or have taken any action steps towards that.”

Stephen Bosacker, Principal Consultant for Arete Consulting said “I'd like to say something about a school I worked with last year. We had a small number of kids, maybe 500, in four locations in the inner city. It was nearly impossible two or three years ago to find out what was going on with anybody because it was all paper in somebody's drawer. In about two years’ time, we were able to change to set up Google Docs for Education as the data hub. We integrated our SIS application and then we secured licenses for Qlik Sense for data visualization and our local experts were able to cobble all these things together so that we could actually pull data daily from different sources including assessments and begin to make it available to people who could use that information. It was a huge project, clumsy in a number of ways. And we struggled as well with the whole issue of security.”

“Using the Google Apps for Education was a help because at least it was secure within our system. All our emails were contained within that. And the data was imported pretty securely through APIs or secure FTPs. It was very helpful. But it was a huge learning curve for the staff. As we looked at the future to integrate other applications, it was daunting.”

“You make a good point,” said Weise. “In particular, the learning curve for the staff.  As we know, technology adoption will be as easy or cumbersome as issues related to usability. Technology vendors are increasingly aware of the importance of the Customer Experience (CX) and are focusing on making things easier for the end user. This is even more relevant in a multigenerational or a niche market such as education, that is already stretched thin. Teachers and administrators have so much on their plates, and they don't need an extra system to log in to or an extra task that relates to security or compliance - or anything else that becomes a requirement but which in fact may deviate them from the main focus of their jobs.”


About the Analytics, Infrastructure & Security Learning Group

If you would like to join, you’ll find discussions about issues like a “Model Architecture” for schools, including the divisions between the major systems and all the little “Applets,” digital curriculum pieces, and sites. In addition, the group brings up important changes about network and hardware infrastructure related to school and district planning – inclusive of security news for both digital and physical hardening of the school environment. Finally, the road to “prescriptive” analytics for full personalization for students has many stages, and the group provides a community forum for discussion and helpful advice.










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