DAILY INSIGHT: Go on a data-gathering mission

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

As educators are being fed the mantra of being data driven, I have to express some concerns about the focus on good sound bites about test scores, standard deviations of the values added, etc., as the single focus of educational practitioners in America. Potentially, it shouldn’t even be the primary focus. A recent issue of Education Weekasked a number of leaders to look back upon the impact of No Child Left Behind. It doesn’t appear that all of the focus on data sound bites has made much of an impact.

It is important for leaders to realize there are other types of data to gather, some of which don’t fit neatly into spreadsheets or databases. Take a morning and leave your office and go to visit schools to gather some random qualitative data about the schools in your district. We all visit schools, especially IT people. We have a superior knowledge of wiring closets, server rooms and computer labs, but we also need time to look at how the end products of our efforts to improve technology are going in the classrooms. Spend some time walking through classrooms and visiting with students and teachers actually engaged in using technology or—possibly—not using technology. Try to see what is going on at their level from the student perspective. The classroom is the front line in our war on ignorance. All leaders need to spend time on the front line. It is the only way to know what is really going on in the schools.

Beyond how technology is being used, look also to the less-measurable facets of schooling. Are the students happy and enjoying learning? Is there a level of excitement in the classroom? Do the students know that the teachers care about them as individuals? Is instructional time being wasted or is there good solid bell-to-bell instruction taking place? Are there examples of student work displayed and regularly updated? Do the students take good care of the school? Is it clean and picked up or full of graffiti and garbage? Are parents warmly welcomed when they come into the school or are they treated like a necessary evil?

Most of you can probably think of many more pertinent queries than I could, but I hope you understand my point. We need to continue to remind ourselves that our students are more than data sets in nicely formatted spreadsheets. They are real individuals who need us to nurture their dreams and to show them the way to success. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “No one cares what you know until they know how much you care.”

Steven M. Baule is currently superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.