A “Need to Know” Situation in Education

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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In the power to know we’re making a difference in education we talked about the emerging education imperative—the metaphorical “learn or die” scenario. There is little doubt that this imperative is driving expanded explorations into how we educate. Which is why when you look worldwide, there is a dizzying array of regulatory frameworks emerging at all levels of education, ranging from the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Act to the Higher Learning Commission’s Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) to the Bologna Process in Europe to test regimes in Qatar. In addition external sources are bringing publicly available data to parents, community leaders, and legislators to start conversations. The Education Trust is one of the leading drivers of these dialogues. Their goal is to highlight success and start difficult explorations of weaknesses in educational systems. Check out their College Results site to do some of your own examinations of college effectiveness. It is a completely different way of looking at college quality than US News and World Report rankings. In addition, the Gates Foundation posts a US report card of state-by-state school system performance as part of their work in igniting change in education through rigor, relevance, and relationships. Other initiatives are also bringing insight to education from more direct sources—student surveys. The National Survey of Student Engagement, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, and the newly created High School Survey of Student Engagement, all use the technique of leveraging the reams of research reports about what works in teaching and learning and then reaching out directly to students. The leaders of these efforts have created surveys that capture data from students about whether they are engaged in teaching and learning activities that research shows will lead them toward success in education. Moreover, they encourage the hundreds of institutions that participate to benchmark themselves against like institutions to compare their effectiveness and drive conversations about what level of engagement is “good enough.” In the United States, broader benchmarking activities are being driven by associations and grant initiatives. For example, The Western States Benchmarking Consortium members are searching for “more meaningful accountability.” Leading school districts in this group are driving student performance analysis, financial intelligence, strategic performance management, and human capital intelligence projects. The Achieving the Dream (ATD) project, funded by the Lumina Foundation, is challenging community colleges to use systematic data collection to learn more about access and success in two-year institutions. Moreover, ATD and other programs, like the College and Career Transitions Initiative are driving institutions to look at data sets that explore the flow of students between levels of education. And the Educause Center for Applied Research is striving to use research and analysis to help higher education leaders make better decisions. While they may not have achieved the sophistication of the predictive analytics used by Amazon.com or the interactivity of gaming systems, it’s clear that education insight initiatives on the local, state, national, and international level are on the rise. I just hope they fulfill the promise of helping us learn what’s working, what’s not, and what holds the potential to drive transformational change in the way we teach and reach students. Because given our modern education imperative, this is truly a “need to know” situation.