Mike McMahon AUSD
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Source:Center on Reinventing Public Education - Buried Treasure(A 82 page PDF file)


Developing a Management Guide From Mountains of School Data

January 2005

Executive Summary

This report provides a practical discussion of what is required to develop a school district “management guide,” along with an actual guide built on evidence-based indicators. It begins with an imaginary discussion at Rebel Valley School District, during which a new superintendent leads his board through the guide.

Indicators are discrete pieces of information, like water temperature or the Dow Jones Average, designed to alert leaders and members of the public about what is going on in large, complex systems. They provide warnings and hints about how well complex systems are functioning. They are, therefore, capable of alerting leaders to potential problems. Although they can help identify problems, they cannot provide solutions.

To be effective, indicators need to be very powerful in terms of the quality of data, the utility of the information they provide, and their ability to communicate something important and meaningful.

The seven indicators of interest in the management system described in this report are:

  • Achievement (reading and mathematics)
  • Elimination of the achievement gap
  • Student attraction (school ability to attract students)
  • Student engagement with the school
  • Student retention/completion
  • Teacher attraction and retention
  • Funding equity

Several implications flow from the analysis contained in this report:

Less may be more. School systems are now awash in data and information. The human capacity to absorb information is of necessity limited. Indicator systems should respect that reality.

The principles of parsimony and power should be respected. The temptation to develop 17 indicators, or even 127 different pieces of information capable of satisfying everyone with a question about anything in every individual school, must be avoided The key to success will lie in parsimoniously selecting a few indicators and judging them against the standards of data, proxy, and communications power.

Current status data is necessary but not sufficient. Without a perspective grounded over time, the public may be confused by year-to-year pronouncements about how well (or poorly) things are going.

Smart use of data holds the potential of dramatically altering the tone and quality of board-superintendent relationships. Data sets that identify problems and promise to “get at” real issues on a school-byschool basis offer district leaders what all of them want—the opportunity to target scarce resources where they can do the most good.

Targeting resources where they can do the most good requires better funding indicators. If district leaders genuinely seek strategic use of limited resources, it is essential that they stop “resourcing” schools and start thinking about the real dollar amounts spent in each of them.

Currently, teacher attraction and retention are the best proxies we have for teacher effectiveness. Reliable indicators on teacher and principal quality are hard to come by. The lack of such indicators greatly hampers our ability to measure the impact of teachers and principals in any given school.

The seven school-level indicators discussed in this paper are a solid jumping off point for any district. Although these indicators are well grounded in research and experience, each district will have to decide for itself the extent to which any (or all) of these seven measures fit its particular needs and circumstances.

Professional development and technical assistance will be required. In recent years, leadership sophistication about data usage has increased dramatically. Still, effective use of data as a management tool will undoubtedly require additional professional development or technical assistance.

State leaders have a significant role to play. The role of state leaders becomes the role of leadership everywhere: pointing people in the right direction, providing political cover, and helping districts move along.

In many ways, indicator development moves beyond bottom-line assessment systems to encourage new ways of thinking about accountability, while doing the right thing and taking the time to do it right. The work outlined in this report suggests that educators and leaders can find a better way, and then provides a concrete example of how this might be done.


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Last modified: February 23, 2005

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