We live in an exciting and promising time in terms of educational decision making. There is a global shift that has infused educational systems with a formal need for data-based decision making. Communities are asking better questions of their educational leadership. Educational leaders are asking better questions to ascertain the success of their policy and programs. And accounting for spending is receiving more attention as budgetary restrictions demand efficiency as well as effectiveness.
The educational issues that we (communities of practioners) believe are true can not be checked for the reality of their presence and impact. For example:
We no longer talk about boys literacy as a matter of opinion: “Boys don’t read as well as girls”.
We talk about it in terms of evidence from comparative results: “On average, girls scored better than boys in reading on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2006).”
We no longer talk about the disengagement of certain groups of students as a matter of opinion: “Emirate boys are not doing well in school and get bored.”
We talk about it in terms of the percentage of students who leave school before graduation by cohort: “14% of Emirate boys drop out of school by Grade 10 in RAK.“
The fact is, we have a population that is better educated, asks better questions, understands situations better and appreciates that data-based decisions has moved our society from un-informed decisions to informed decisions. Decisions rooted in information that is relevant, accurate, valid and will show evidence that we have invested our resources wisely. Decisions that show our kids are learning and achieving better.
From educational institutions in the Masai land outside of Nairobi to downtown Toronto, there is a serious focus on creating central databases that can be used to support educational leaders. The technology employed varies from sophisticated software that produces colourful reports, to Excel spreadsheets, to pieces of paper with tables.
For example, this year, the UAE Ministry of Education has made a move to connect public schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates to store relevant data and monitor progress. To date, the UAE has no centralised record-keeping for students in the public system. The promise of moving towards this system is a step closer to attaining UAE Vision 2021.
Although there is serious promise, we should remember that how the data gets stored is not necessarily tied to how it gets used. In other words – you can have the most sophisticated system and still NOT have data-based decision making.
There are a set of professional skills required to navigate the data and extract useful information to support decisions. Database software can help, but it is not a substitute for professional decision-making. In fact, data collection and storage is far less problematic than data analysis and results interpretation to support program decisions.
All this points a need for parallel efforts to move from an opinion-based to a data-based decision making education system. Indeed, the development of databases is critical, but so is the development of educators and educational leaders who can use them effectively.