The world of “big data” just got a little clearer thanks to the first annual conference on “Data & Civil Rights.” The meeting brought together leaders from the civil rights community, government, industry, and a variety of policy nerds from the criminal justice, education, employment, finance, health, and housing sectors. Hosted by the Data & Society Research Institute, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and New America’s Open Technology Institute, the conference provided a unique opportunity for attendees to form new connections and share ideas with individuals.
Though there’s no technical definition for the term “big data,” it’s used to describe the use of advanced technology to analyze huge data sets with great speed. Many education reformers see the confluence of student data, new processing tools, and the ability to more personalize student learning as a way to address disparities in student achievement. However, a big question in the world of big data is, Will the use of big data analytics further contribute to existing discrimination in our society?
According to experts, the answer will not be as easy as pressing a button.
Human understanding is critical to containing the adverse effects of big data analytics. Inferences about individuals, generated by big data analytics, are reliant upon the relevance and accuracy of the data being used as well as the structure of the algorithms developed to analyze the data. Such algorithms are developed by programmers who may have no sense of how their technical work can have an adverse effect on civil rights.
In addition to thinking about the future of big data, experts reflected on the historical use of data to discriminate. Speakers also noted the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision, which called attention to egregious disparities in education investments for students of color. Making financial data publicly available is one way data can be used to help identify disparities in educational settings so that they may be addressed. Check out DQC’s recent report Using Financial Data to Support Student Success.
Going forward, steps should be taken to ensure that data are only used to empower students and their families. Data should never be used to hurt students. Rather, when used effectively, education data may be used to help students reach their educational goals and continually succeed over the course of a lifetime.
What types of data are used by successful school leaders? What practices do these leaders take to ensure a data-driven environment? Why are some school leaders able to successfully integrate data into their instruction while others are not?
The authors do a great job of pointing out that data is not a magic word that immediately creates positive change the moment it is used by school leaders. Educators must understand how to collect, read, and analyze data to effectively integrate them into their instruction. One analogy the authors mentioned really stood out to me: Just as driving more miles to work does not cause a commute to improve, more data do not automatically cause improvement in student achievement. When school leaders increase the amount of data being collected without understanding how to effectively use them, educators find themselves drowning in data with no improved results in academic achievement.
The authors also drive home the point that increased capacity is necessary to make data-driven decisions, however it is not enough for instructional improvement. School leaders must create a climate of trust and focus on the evidence used to support instructional decisions. Administrators must engage faculty in dialogue to create a climate of learning for students and teachers, while setting the vision and mission of the school as well. Leaders must be focused on improving the culture, dialogue, and capacity around data literacy within the school rather than simply on increasing test scores.
The book drives home the necessary elements in creating a successful and data-driven school. Data will not lead to the intended improvements envisioned by school leaders unless a culture of literacy, collaboration, and learning is developed first.
In 2013 the Petworth neighborhood campus of Center City Public Charter Schools posted the biggest English Language Learner (ELL) achievement gains in Washington, DC. Through the use of data, teachers and other education leaders in the school found patterns that improved instruction by addressing the unique needs of each student.