The business community has a long history of partnering with schools and advocating for better education policy to help all students succeed, and with good reason. To meet the demands of a 21st-century knowledge economy, America needs the next generation to be its best and brightest. But today, half of incoming ninth graders in urban, high-poverty schools are already three years or more below grade level. Our country’s 15-year-olds rank 26th for math, 21st for science and 17th for reading among their global peers. We can’t reach that goal of student success for all without leveraging quality information to help every student excel.
The problem in education is no longer a lack of quality data. Over the past 10 years, every state in the country has built a strong infrastructure to collect information about how our students, teachers and schools are doing. The information is richer than ever — it goes beyond just test scores to include demographics, course-taking, early warning systems and more. Together, it can provide a clear picture of student performance.
The problem is that, in too many cases, the information isn’t yet being used to improve student achievement. It’s often simply collected just to check a compliance box and then put on a shelf, never to be consulted again. The data is not being employed to foster a culture of continuous improvement. This would be unthinkable in the business sector.
Business leaders interested in supporting student achievement have been committing time, energy and money for years to change policy and practice to support reform in schools and systems. But with all that investment, they would wonder why schools weren’t showing better results. Why are education outcomes for our children not improving?
Any CEO knows that in order to answer those questions, you need thorough, accurate information to home in on challenges and identify workable solutions. A decade ago, we had neither quality data nor an education culture that valued evidence, and there was little capacity in schools to use information to manage for results. We now have robust information in education, and we are just on the cusp of leveraging that data to help kids excel.
When used responsibly and effectively, data can transform classrooms into hubs of innovation and excitement for learning. Data helps teachers personalize learning for individual students to a degree never before possible, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all model that only works for some students. It is clear that the current K-12 education system is not working, as more than 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges — and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year universities — are placed in remedial classes. Half of all undergraduates pay for remedial courses to cover what they should have learned in high school, at a cost of nearly $7 billion annually. Teaching and learning can be greatly improved by using quality data on a regular basis to guide effective approaches in the classroom.
This type of personalized learning is critical to ensuring that students have the skills they need to be successful in the workforce of the future — about 40 percent of employers are already dissatisfied with high school graduates’ ability to read and understand complicated materials, think analytically and solve real-world problems — and to keep the US competitive. By 2020, U.S. companies will need to employ 123 million highly skilled workers. However, only 50 million workers will qualify. Children are not widgets, and they need the highest quality individual support to develop the skills to thrive as workers in the knowledge economy.
As business leaders know, data is critical to getting results. Students need the best information to understand their performance and shape their own education journey. Parents need it to know what actions to take to be the best champions for their child. Teachers need it to understand their students’ performance and help them grow. And school leaders and policymakers need it to see what’s working — or not — in schools and allocate resources to effective programs.
The business community can play a critical leadership role in helping the education sector create a culture that uses data in the service of student learning. Business leaders should:
- First, use their bully pulpit as community and national leaders to advocate for investments in data infrastructure and in the capacity to use the information created through these data systems to inform decisions in education.
- Second, work with their local school and district leaders to offer training, support and guidance on how to manage with data to see better results.
There’s so much the business community can do to demonstrate and demystify a culture that values information. The future of the American economy — and the American dream — depends on it.
(Top image: Getty Images)
Aimee Guidera is President and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign.
Cindy Cisneros is Vice President of Education Programs at the Committee for Economic Development. Follow them at @DQCAimee and @CindyCisneros8