The Cart before the Horse… or How Not to Develop a Mission-Driven Education Service Delivery System

November 10, 2014 at 1:17 PM Leave a comment

Education leaders and policy-makers are presuming knowledge they do not have yet when they address issues of weighted student funding, teacher effectiveness, and pedagogical best practices. Blunt instruments that capture the proverbial lightning rods on the education landscape have driven decision-making for so long that too many simply accept the truisms that “everybody knows…” Nowhere is there any evidence of information to build and fine-tune a mission-driven service delivery.

Education policy has followed a mythology around the uniqueness of the industry, its usual suspects, the established budget-busters, and good and bad pedagogical practices. Regulatory accounting and data reports do not yield the kind of information that is instructive or truly actionable. Rather, overworking of aggregate data implies precision in cost analyses and funding; test scores, attendance, and graduation rates become proxies for effectiveness in student outcomes. Absent standard data gathering on instruction, actual classroom practices defy validation.

Education is a service-delivery system that would benefit from the insight allowed in the case management model for information management. Taking a lesson from the healthcare delivery system, education should convert from a cost-plus system to student-centered accounting and data, which matches funding with expenses and narrative information about resource allocation as well as student outcomes. This approach would allow for a better understanding of relevant student cohorts, actual services delivered, appropriateness of resource allocation, and quality review of educational effectiveness. It could also be directly linked to educator practice analysis and effectiveness reports.

Student-linked data on instruction would allow for real research on pedagogy, which currently falls prey to whimsy despite the best of intentions. Pedagogical best practices tend to begin with reasonable ideas, often from scholarly hypotheses, and rapidly become diffused throughout the more progressive schools, begging the question of their authenticity. Professional development follows to ensure that everyone adopts these practices, and dissenters are cautioned to acquiesce or risk demerits on their evaluations. Collaboration turns into a verbal agreement that goes something like, “If we all do the same thing…the students will have to get the message.” Ironically, the latest best practice fad always seems to carry the claim that it is student-centric and personalizes instruction. In reality, it only guarantees that there will be no competing practices to dispute its superlative label when the data is collected on its effectiveness.

Student-centered pedagogy cannot be driven by educator beliefs or biases. Rather, a robust model calls for offering the full array of possible learning activities, at least within the limits of available human capacity and technology. Lessons that are not working for a student should be set aside while he or she pursues a variety of alternatives, such as different approaches to the current concept, outside explorations, searching for missing information to fill knowledge gaps, or getting the perspective of a peer tutor. Data should be collected throughout the process to support professional practice analysis. Ultimately, every student must have good educational outcomes for the system to declare victory.

The development of a student-centered database will not be easy. But the first step might be to acknowledge the degree to which educators are hamstrung by the current system. Every state has begun with Federal data requirements for the last 10% of education funding, and then cobbled a system for the other 90% around it. So, while state and local education authorities are autonomous in most of their decisions about their education delivery systems, the federal standards make data-driven decisions more difficult.

What is likely to remain true is that data standards should be driven by federal policy for consistency across all states. However, these standards should be developed to serve the needs of educators at the service delivery level, not just addressing the federal exigencies. This would suggest that the Department of Education collaborate with some number of states to build possible models for student-centered databases and fund demonstration projects in local school districts.

And, of course, the demonstration models must be persuasive of filling a need. This cannot be just another alleged best practice among administrators that is more trouble than it is worth.


Entry filed under: Data.

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