Data alone is useless


The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research recently published a great resource that looks at how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has used data to improve students’ educational attainment. The PDF is a solid 83 page read, but it is worth taking your time and reading through it. Just seeing the term data strategist over data analyst for the key data person made me see a slight shift in the person’s responsibilities from techie to thought partner. It points to the other skills a data person should have beyond analytical skills, the two main ones being communication skills and the ability to work well with other individuals and teams.

The paper starts off by openly stating that it is not enough to just have the data. We often incorrectly think that having the most amazing data dashboard in the world will cause great impact all by itself. Having the data is critical, but it is the culture we build around that data and the conversations we have that matters the most. Included in this paper is a data strategy chart created by The Network for College Success (NCS).

Data strategy visual developed by Quinton Keith and The Network for College Success

We built the Data Viz Starter Pack to handle the Collect phase and most of the Transform phase seen above. We found data analysts were spending a bulk of their time locating the data and working to bring it together in a clean way that could then be reported on. We wanted to remove this burden as much as possible. They need to focus on giving meaning to the data and bringing it to stakeholders in a way where those staff members can then decide how the data will be used. What actions will be taken and how will it be communicated to teachers, students, and parents.

I loved that this paper addressed the need for focus. It can often be tempting to report on every piece of data available to you. A viewpoint of We are going to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. This can especially be tempting because the Starter Pack provides so much data right off the bat. However, there is a real need to determine the most important questions that need to be answered and to then figure out the simplest way of answering them. By using the Starter Pack, you’ve consolidated your data into one system and by using Google Data Studio you’ve adopted a data reporting tool can that create clean and simple data visualizations without getting too complicated.

there is a real need to determine the most important questions that need to be answered and to then figure out the simplest way of answering them.

Data strategists need to build out their worth in an organization by understanding the questions that are most important to those around them. They need to look to team leaders and other departments as well as the research. This will bring to light the most important metrics. For example, a focus should be on 9th grade attendance before academics and should use 8th grade metrics to predict who will need what type of supports. First make sure the student is attending school. Then offer the appropriate academic supports depending on their GPA band.

When you build the necessary data reports, remember to keep it simple. Bring the data to those that need it and stay there to help them strategize. We cannot drop data reports on people without them understanding the need, knowing what questions those reports are answering, and being there to help them strategize and review progress over time.


University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

Practice-Driven Data: Lessons from Chicago's Approach to Research, Data, and Practice in Education

Marcos Alcozer