How Data is Improving Education in the US

Millions of Americans have recently gone back to school. While the biggest question a middle schooler may have is whether s/he has the right sized notebooks, robust high school graduation rates can help stimulate the economy and erode unemployment over the long term. In short, the better schools perform today, the more varied and fulfilling tomorrow’s jobs become.

The Benefits of Data-Based Research

A better school system, at all levels, is informed by data-based research. According to the Institute for Higher Learning Policy and online masters in educational leadership degree program literature, data can assist traditionally underserved minority populations obtain access to advanced placement classes, thereby increasing academic enrichment and the chances of landing a spot at a nationally-recognized university. The right kind of data can also reduce dropout rates and enhance the quality of instruction to traditionally underserved demographics.

The main educational initiative spearheaded under former president George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act, oversaw an uptick in tracking the outcomes and increasing the performance of elementary and middle school students in public schools across the nation. The No Child Left Behind Act underwent reauthorization in 2007 and all signs point to similar data-based interventions and outcome tracking extending into public high schools over the coming years.

At present, virtually the only metric for high school students is annual dropout rates. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has promised to narrow the achievement gap between white and minority populations by bolstering social justice and guaranteeing underserved populations gain access to academic enrichment. The current number is sixty percent – only sixty percent of low-income households can reasonably expect to attain a high school diploma. Data indicates that a high school dropout is four times more likely to be unemployed than a college graduate; with the national unemployment rate still above seven percent, the occupational implications of not attaining a high school diploma are unacceptable.

The Problems and How to Overcome Them

Only twenty five, or one-half, of US states track critical indicators like course enrollment and test scores to bolster academic outcomes. Critical indicators are, well, critical for understanding one’s aptitude for entering college or the workforce; if numbers are too low, academic interventions can be instituted. When the numbers are nebulous or plain omitted from records, state legislators and the US Department of Education have little initiative for targeted educational interventions and educational enrichment efforts.

Another educational statistic, perhaps most startling to some parents and educators, only two states track teacher preparation. Why is this relevant? By tracking teacher preparation, educators can ensure the best teachers rise to the top. That said, more promising data show that twelve states are able to track students from high school into university classrooms and, finally, into jobs and careers. This metric can help determine what style of education produces the ideal training for tomorrow’s jobs and careers. Right now, unfortunately, parents and educators alike lack the understanding and empirical studies showing the bridge between educational attainment and occupational outcomes.

In an ideal world, school systems, school districts and state education boards would locate best-practice interventions based on empirical data. This might mean changing instruction to bolster student performance early on. Indeed, the three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic – are considered basic skills and signs of literacy among grade school students. When these basic skills are established around kindergarten, students show far-flung benefits like higher high school graduation rates.

Standards-Based Education Reform

In fact, right now there’s a debate in Washington about standards-based education reform, which aims to further streamline national benchmarks for educational performance at certain grades and ages. In other words, the standards-based approach seeks to ensure students are keeping pace with what legislatures deem acceptable for that particular age group.

A sweeping protocol of standards-based educational reform differs from a norm-references standard in that the former is based on a concrete benchmark. Although social justice is still respected with the standards-based approach, curriculum is more developmentally appropriate and tailored to learning achievement, as opposed to social promotion and an essentially predetermined progression through the grades based on age.

By embracing criterion-referenced instead of norm-referenced tests, parents and educators can rest assured that students on all levels are receiving developmentally appropriate material. A standards-based approach would also provide high school graduation exams to ensure students were ready to enter the workforce. These types of interventions would help ensure tomorrow’s workforce is promoted in today’s student populations.

This guest author is a freelance writer and aspiring teacher valuing innovation, hard work, and a relentless approach to creating a better place for our next generation. She can be reached on TwitterFacebookGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

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