Posts filed under ‘Financial data’

Privacy and Data Solutions in Education – Part 2 of 2

Big data in education must be just as big on security. Everything from children’s journals to administrators’ meeting notes can turn up on Google Docs or Facebook. These may seem like great platforms for trying out 21st century tools. However, the long range plans must include tight security as we take very privileged information and make it broadly available…on a need-know-basis?!?

The future for education data is bright. We are just beginning to realize the potential for developing integrated systems that are student-centered and can bring together student funding and outcomes…which can then be reconciled with delivery system and educator effectiveness. Whew! But can this brave new world accommodate the privacy requirements for all the players?

Consider that…

  • The New York Times has published test performance data that might have been better kept in NYC DOE teachers’ human resource files.
  • Children who are not old enough to join Facebook or understand their ever-changing privacy rules are active on the site through their classroom pages and may be revealing too much about themselves in journals or personal essays.
  • Confidential memos have been leaked and shared for sport and maximum exposure.
  • Risqué videos and inappropriate photos of teenagers have trended on Twitter with record speed.

Everyone is in the media and social networks, but it is not clear who is in charge or what the rules should be. Privacy has become a thing of the past…at least for the present.

In a period of rapid technological change, it is all a person can do to stay current. Being open to new technology is a requirement for today’s professional, but the blurring of boundaries between public and private personas challenges even the savviest users. Bringing social networks into the classroom and school community has unleashed the potential for innovation in communication and collaboration. But it has brought with it loss of control over content.

Platforms offered by Facebook, Google, or Pinterest allow us to experiment with shared portfolios of content from a variety of media. Concepts for limiting access to information exist in theory, but most privacy shields have been proven to be flawed. For the moment, anything posted on an Internet site carries risk of exposure. Does that mean we should stop experimenting with new apps? No…because the milieu will define important ways that we can integrate data in the future.

Education data banks will need to accommodate all media types, but they also must be exclusive for participation. Essentially, the old privacy rights need to be engineering into new Intranet systems. For example,

  • Children need to be shielded from personal exposure to people beyond their immediate families or the school community.
  • Only students, their parents, and relevant teachers and administrators should have access to certain student information.
  • Every staff member has the right to privacy in employment records and personal information.
  • Student outcomes, teacher performance, and education effectiveness data may be intertwined for quality assurance internally, but the identities of the participants can never be revealed in public records.

We have a major opportunity to become far better informed as decision-makers in education. But as the song says, some things are private.


January 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM Leave a comment

Privacy and Data Solutions in Education – Part 1 of 2

Fully integrated systems in education hold incredible potential to combine a variety of types of data and media from finance, human resources, and education operations…organized around students. Once this very big picture was in place, truly mission-driven education services could become a reality. But do we have the courage to abandon our regulatory model?

Let’s make our education information systems a do-over. Start with student funding and build a zero-based budget from there. Financial statements aggregate from student education centers up. District services would be driven by demand and economy.

Then build student records that combine data fields, documents, and audio-visual inputs. A continuum of real and metaphorical snapshots of the whole child would emerge over the course of his or her education.  It would comprise the usual demographic data, formal assessments, and grades. However, portfolios also could be included with key samples of student work as evidence of academic and psychosocial benchmarks, distinctive strengths, or leaning style profiles. Special education or English language learner files could be included as well.

Every educator would have a consolidated record. It could capture the teacher or administrator’s personnel data and link it to evidence on dimensions such as student progress, videos of practice activities, or feedback from students, parents, and colleagues. Professionalism and dimensions of leadership could be captured as well.

Each player would have a good picture of current achievement levels in addition to a longitudinal progress report. Beyond the individual, finance and performance analysis would inform system leaders as they refined the education delivery system for efficiency and effectiveness. Continuous quality improvement would not only be possible – it should become mandatory – for the people and the system.

Clearly today’s regulatory model is not working. But are we ready to give up bad data, scapegoating, and plausible deniability for real information that allows us to grow?

January 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM 1 comment

Spend Education Dollars Wisely – Invest Private Equity Funds in Real Economic Capacity

This should be a no-brainer. The $500 billion dollar elementary and secondary education market needs to be fiscally responsible. And our economy needs to expand through investment in real productive assets. Yet private investors are seeking to skim profits off of the poorly administered public education money instead of going for new economic capacity. They misinterpret the difference between a stimulus package steeped in short-term spending on employment and infrastructure improvements in education and long-term profit-planning through economic growth.

Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools: “…Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They’re pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.”

This excerpt from a Reuters press release yesterday tells us that US “job creators” still don’t get it. They continue to do profit planning based on eating our young. Building a renewed private sector based on extending government spending on PreK-12 education will not make this nation stronger economically. Nor will it make sense to crowd out other investments in productive assets by developing a shadow industry for private investment money in alternative education services.

In the recent past election, the US economy was a key issue. It remains so. However, we continue to see private investment in the very public goods that conservative politicians sought to curb. Cutting healthcare spending and privatizing education were targeted as solutions, but we still need to see evidence that our great economic visionaries can see past their next short sale. The private growth opportunities cannot be healthcare and education. They crowd-out investments for the future.

Healthcare spending already consumes as much of GDP as should ever be reasonable in a stable economy. The $1 trillion investment in college loans to kids is already too high. New private dollars going into public education will continue to dampen the job opportunities for the children once they finish high school and college.

Yes, the brick-and-mortar infrastructure in education is crumbling and needs to be reinforced. And, yes, the children in the classroom should be protected from the feast and famine of economic cycles. However, compensatory money spent in either area must be seen as short-term spending.

In addition, existing private companies that serve this industry need to follow the market from paper to digital media. They must do this to survive – not expand. New players may emerge because they do this better, but the overall industry should not grow faster than the economy in the long run.

$500 billion may be enough to fund public education. We are not sure, but we need to find out what we are buying with our money. However, as long as our financial data system in education lacks transparency, the looters will come.

November 27, 2012 at 8:14 AM Leave a comment

New PreK-12 Education Priorities for the Returning Obama Administration

The Common Core State Standards, NCLB waivers, and Race to the Top initiatives have altered the landscape in education in the absence of an NCLB rewrite. On this day of reflection after Election 2012, I offer a few thoughts on resetting policy priorities until ESEA renewal becomes feasible.

Entering the 2nd term, in my humble opinion, the Obama Administration could benefit from raising the priority of three issues in PreK-12 education…

  • Decision architecture for education finance, reporting, and analysis
  • Federal support for government employee pension reform
  • Incentives/accountabilities for grade level proficiency for students in general or special education and students who are English language learners

Decision Architecture

The Race to the Top program (RttT) has instructed states and districts to design new approaches to student funding, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes. Having completed the idea generation phase for reinvention of the decision architecture within education authorities, it is time to draw expertise from beyond traditional regulatory compliance models. Educators need to learn from non-education sources with more expertise in aligning information and analyses to the mission of educating children efficiently and effectively.

The finished products should draw on the best of the general industry models and those presented by RttT exemplars. They should include a standard for financial reporting that is student-centered as well as data elements to be automated in support of teacher effectiveness and student outcome reports.

Pension Reform

Government employee pensions are straining fiscal resources while yielding inequitable benefits for plan participants and limiting their career mobility. Current retirees and vested employees need security with their defined-benefit pensions. Separately, the wisdom of continuing to underwrite such pensions in the future needs to be assessed. However, any introduction of defined-contribution pensions for new or unvested employees would result in eventual bankruptcy for legacy plans.

The Federal role in the issue could be one of mitigating the financial crisis in pension funding. Changes to the tax code could lower the effective cost of borrowing for sponsors to meet pension obligations. In addition, elimination of the Social Security opt-out would extend the safety net for employees switching to higher risk, defined-contribution pension plans. A prior post discussing this issue can be found here.

Grade Level Proficiency

When redefining the data elements needed for measuring student outcomes, Federal regulators will need to keep in mind new targets and deadlines for general grade-level proficiency among PreK-12 students. Longitudinal tracking across content areas will need to be enhanced significantly, especially to ensure that students receiving services in Special Ed or ELL programs are demonstrating accelerated progress in response to accommodations and modifications.

This shift in emphasis should create incentives to move beyond regulatory compliance to demonstration of real benefits for students, a continuation of the work announced in an Education Department notice available here.

Other items on the Federal agenda

Meanwhile, teacher preparation does not need to be such a high priority on the Federal agenda. Educators are being trained under a variety of conditions ranging from rigorous 5­-year programs that combine baccalaureate and master’s degrees to boot camp immersion programs or online courses with limited apprenticeships. Aggressive evaluation of the most highly structured programs exclusively is both unfair and at risk of overestimating the state of the art in actual practice. In addition, success has been seen with many teacher prep models, raising doubt that the problem lies with the pipeline of new teachers.

Rather, a crucial lapse in quality arises because individual schools and districts show uneven results with their ability to keep teachers in top form professionally throughout their careers. That is a local problem that is being addressed retrospectively through the teacher evaluation process. Prospectively, Federal regulators should consider grants for demonstration projects to introduce general management and human resource expertise from general industry into education leadership development.

November 7, 2012 at 2:46 PM Leave a comment

More Support for Redesigning Financial Reports for Schools

Guest blogger Marguerite Roza challenges charter schools to take on the task of containing their costs in her column found on today. However, the standard for economic analyses may need to be set before it can be implemented. In the comments, I offered my plea for better financial reporting one more time…

In their defense, charters and district schools suffer from a mixture of data limitations and relative marginalization of school business managers. A nudge is in order that must begin with the Feds.

Charters and district schools would benefit from a new standard for financial statements. The federal filing rules do not include adequate detail in financials to manage productivity, and detail is diminished when going from the district level to the school. In order to achieve prudent and creative fiscal management, schools need financial reports that conform to a business model rather than focusing on regulatory oversight of special government programs.

Districts vary in their use of discretion over internal reports. However, the entire education system could be nudged in the direction of cogent analyses of their business models if the DOE were to redesign fiscal data requirements around both macro and micro considerations.

In addition, greater depth of training in business analysis is needed for school leaders, which would be more easily achieved once the aforementioned financials were improved in their transparency and accessibility.

June 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM Leave a comment

Balance Sheets for Schools

Too many financial and facilities decisions are made under duress as school districts respond to critical needs that cannot be avoided. Often, competing needs that should have been considered arise soon after the ground is broken for a new building or a new round of debt financing has been completed. The process of allowing a district’s priorities to bubble up to the surface should be replaced with school-based balance sheets that allow a prospective and transparent look at the asset base for every education facility.

School districts make decisions to add new buildings or enhance old ones, often in isolation in response to critical needs. Each project is vetted publicly, but the opportunity cost of the choice often is only revealed after the fact. Districts need tools to strategically manage their portfolios of facilities, intending their investments in each and every school. And their choices need to be made with transparency for oversight by regulators and constituents.

Filing a complete financial balance sheet for every school is a fundamental requirement to support such an analysis on an ongoing basis. Similarly, debt is assumed by cities, towns, or school districts for capital outlays, pension funding, and operating cash needs. By matching the debt to schools, they can get a better picture of whether they are investing in the future, or mortgaging it.

Each school needs a solid asset base, current solvency, and long-term viability. Its age, benefits of modernization, and safety as a standalone structure should be known at any time. This does not mean that we should ignore the benefits of a balanced portfolio of shared resources…only that we must know the value of the home base for any group of students. And we must know the system’s exposure to risk at each facility as well.

June 5, 2012 at 10:11 AM Leave a comment

Why School Financial Statements Need an Overhaul

Wasting resources intended for our children or our retired public servants would seem to be reprehensible. Ironically, the government accounting systems that were created to protect these beneficiaries from fraudulent use of funds have become culprits. Regulatory accounting impedes analysis of the linkage between funding and mission. Further, its details are inadequate for building the robust models needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the delivery system.

Just a few of the problems with financial statements for public education…

  • There is no direct link between the sources of funds and the students served.
  • District accounting reflects compliance with regulations instead of education priorities. There is no standard for distribution of funds across content areas, cohorts of students, or programs (e.g., STEM).
  • School-based accounting shows only a partial list of accounts. It does not capture full measure of resources invested in the educational effort or allow assessment of return on investment.
  • School financial management guidelines are preoccupied with petty cash – vending machine and event cash receipts – not big picture funding of the school’s mission.
  • Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) guidelines for pensions do not require accurate assessment of plan solvency.
  • Lack of transparency renders fiscal oversight dependent upon translation by insiders.

Incumbents in school district finance or building leadership are specially trained in the esoteric demands of the existing regulatory model. Many have never worked outside of the industry. The echo chamber cannot be expected to identify the problems and agitate for change. Indeed, inexperience, lack of knowledge, or comfort with the status quo may conspire to obstruct progress toward a fiscal model that informs decisions without loss of integrity to regulatory intent. Nevertheless, we need change now.

May 9, 2012 at 9:28 AM Leave a comment

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