Bluyonder Greg Whitby

Updated: 2 hours 27 min ago

Looking at educational data through a sharper lens

23 April, 2018 - 20:47

Society is awash with data and so are schools and school systems. The good news is most of this data is available electronically. The gap in terms of our use of data in schools is we have never had an overarching framework which brings structure, clarity and flow to the analysis. While we may have had a good understanding of the inputs (e.g resourcing, professional learning), we haven’t been able to measure the outputs (i.e. is it actually improving the learning and teaching). An educational framework links the inputs and the outputs, the external (beyond school control) and the internal (within school control) factors so that any one of us can see where we need to allocate time, effort and resources. Half the game in improving educational outcomes is knowing whether it is beyond or within our locus of control. The end game of course is being able to allocate resources more strategically when we have a framework that gives us a) more data points to provide context and b) a granular focus.

The Six Lens Approach for School Systems (Varanasi, Fischetti & Smith, 2017), pictured below and outlined in detail in Data Leadership for K-12 Schools in a Time of Accountability  provides a framework and a context for educational change. This is not a panacea but it is a new lever for schools in a new age, allowing us to take a more proactive approach to understanding the variables that impact on education. In the past, we have borrowed frameworks from the higher education sector but as we know, universities are governed by different drivers and values.

Six-Lens Educational Analytics Framework

What we have in the Six Lens is a way that allows data to be consumed and understood by school staff. The emergence of interactive visualisations and dashboards means that data is on demand and can be used to inform discussions within (school level), between (school and home) and across schools (system level). As Ben Shneiderman noted in 1996, the value of visualisation is it not only opens up data to the masses but allow us to go deeper with it. The simple message is we are all data consumers and thus, data is everyone’s business. While technology is making it much easier to access the data, analytics in itself is not about providing the answers. We are living in an age where human judgment still lies at the heart of how we use data to bring about change.

By the time most schools adopt the framework, we will have entered the next iteration of education analytics – predictive models and AI. This will be a game-changer for schooling given we will be able to pro-actively identify and manage risks before they negatively impact on the learning. I hope to see this in less than 18 months!




Categories: Planet

Education and the cult of efficiency

10 April, 2018 - 11:58

I was having a conversation recently about why schools are still largely stuck in an industrial model. It prompted me to look for a book that I haven’t visited in a while but has been seminal in my thinking. ‘Education in the cult of efficiency’ by Raymond E. Callahan may have been published in 1962 but it continues to resonates today and will continue until we accept and recognise that schools are not factories; students are not products, and that the” improvement agenda” condemns us to repeating past failures.  And while I have argued that we can learn from innovative companies like Apple, Atlassian and Ideo (all of which are driven by the customer), we have spent the better part of a century failing to challenge the dominant business ideology that pervades our school systems.

Callahan and more recently Richard Elmore have argued that the institutionalisation of schools has led to educators being a ‘low-status and low-power’ group. Hence, why the learning and teaching agenda has been so strongly influenced by those outside of the profession. While Callahan reflects on the social forces that shaped public schooling in America, he admits early on that in the early 1900s, they had established a framework for a ‘noble concept’ of education. This was the time when John Dewey was espousing his philosophical position that schooling must be a ‘hands-on’ experience.

Schools at that time were not immune from the social (industrial) forces shaping America. The rise of the great industrialists and the power they wielded across politics and society may have made America great but as we are seeing in the US and in those countries that followed America’s lead, the industrialised efficiency model is now a blight on modern societies.

One aspect of the economisation of schooling, which Callahan brilliantly refers to as the ‘Descent into Trivia’ meant that school administrators were ignoring the substance of quality education in favour of spending time and energy on the mechanics (e.g. increasing class sizes, maintenance of floors, heating and toilet paper). This was in the 1930s – so to read Callahan again in 2018 is akin to reading a Greek tragedy only Callahan calls it an ‘American tragedy in education’.

If you read nothing else of Callahan’s book, I implore you to read the final chapter. Anyone working in and for education cannot but feel their ire rise by the great disservice we have done to millions of students. As Callahan writes so powerfully, the consequences of blindly adopting [business] values and practices and applying them with ‘little or no consideration of educational values or purposes’ is the great tragedy. He says that ‘it was a serious mistake in an institution whose primary purpose was the education of children and if the focus had been on producing the finest product (e.g quality learning and teaching) instead of aspiring to delivering schooling at the lowest cost, the outcome would not have been so adverse.

In summarising, Callahan provides the following reflections and recommendations to school systems in the free world:

  1. Society must realise that school systems have been caught in a vicious cycle since 1911
  2. The profession must work together with parents, politicians and the wider community to ensure quality schooling reigns
  3. There is no easy path to ‘genuine professional competence’ – it requires hard intellectual work to turn factories into places of learning
  4. Job satisfaction is just as important as salary in attracting teachers to the profession
  5. Transformation is a national challenge and it requires ‘bold and vigorous’ leadership from the profession and those in public life
  6. Educational leaders need to have a good grounding in humanities, social and natural sciences in order to understand the challenges of the age and make sound intellectual judgments based on the kind of quality education children will need
  7. Educational leaders require professional competence as well as the skills and knowledge to know whether the desired outcomes are being achieved (i.e. evaluating instructional efforts)

Finally, I would love to see Callahan’s final paragraph (although written for an American audience in the early sixties) in every staffroom as a constant reminder of why we must transform schooling today.

To do this, (America) will need to break with its traditional practice, strengthened so much in the age of efficiency, of asking how our schools can be operated most economically and begin asking instead what steps need to be taken to provide an excellent education for our children. We must face the fact that there is no cheap, easy way to educate a human being and a free society cannot endure without educated men [and women].






Categories: Planet
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