“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” wrote Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in their Harvard Business Review article “Big Data: The Management Revolution.” Attributed to W. Edwards Deming, renowned statistician and management expert, and Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management thinking, McAfee and Brynjolfsson use this quote to illustrate the importance of the recent explosion in digital data gathering. Simply put, because of big data, we can now measure, and therefore know, radically more about our workplaces and directly translate that knowledge into improved decision making and performance. The same principle applies to K-12 education.


There is ample research to suggest that data-driven organisations are measurably more profitable than those that are not. There are those in education who bemoan ‘schools becoming businesses,’ yet there is no doubt that schools operate on multi-million dollar budgets and that the bottom line is vital to the future of the school and those who work there. For this reason, it is impossible to avoid the growing importance of data.


Is Your School Data-Driven?


Areas of strategic focus for the operational side of a school, as described by the Building Systems and Operations unit of the CIRCLE Postgraduate Study in School Leadership Program, are:


+ Human Resources – organisational development, recruitment, induction, professional learning and career management
+ Advancement – community engagement, marketing, enrolments and development
+ Business Operations – financial, resource, ICT systems and risk management
+ Logistics – time and resource management


How your school chooses to gather data will depend on your context, but to achieve better outcomes, you will likely be gathering data and creating evidence-based practices around many of the areas listed above.


Are Better Decisions Being Made By All?


“The essence of data-driven is making better decisions up and down the organization chart,” said Thomas Redman, the author of Data Driven: Profiting from Your Most Important Business Asset. This gets to the heart of why you are gathering data: if it is not leading to better decisions in your school, then why do it?


Data-driven organisations not only make better decisions, but many of these decisions are more easily made at lower levels of the organisation, allowing the senior management team to only focus on the most important decisions. Many data-driven CEOs report that they only focus on a handful of the most important decisions themselves, while ensuring that those who report to them have the data and the confidence to make the others. In addition, people further down the organisation spend more time and take greater care when a decision falls to them, creating a more enjoyable work environment.


Use ‘Lead’ As Well As ‘Lag’ Measures


Assembling and interpreting data is vital, but schools must not simply remain in the ‘lag’ mindset of reviewing what has already happened. You also need to consider what might happen.


Your school may have identified enrolment statistics as a key area in your risk management strategy. Therefore, statistics kept around inquiry rates can be an early ‘lead’ indicator of problems, in contrast to the ‘lag’ indicator of the list of students who have left your school.


Likewise, a major initiative under consideration can be wisely informed by data. For example, a school may be considering significant expansion of its junior school, and may use data related to student outcomes to decide if this is the best option. Alternatively, the school might use more sophisticated statistical measures and modeling that include variables such as socio-economic status, parent occupation, levels of parent education, IQ and EQ measures and student character measures. Data gathered by such means will either strengthen the case or expose flaws in the argument before major resources are committed. Well worth a little extra effort!


Rubbish In, Rubbish Out


Finally, ensure that you are dealing with good quality data. Then you can gather information on just about anything that goes on, in and around your school. In the words of Thomas Redman, “You simply cannot be data-driven (or do anything consistently well for that matter) without high-level of trust in your data and data sources. You’re reduced to your intuition alone if you don’t.”


Bio: Bruce Hodges is a client services and research consultant at CIRCLE, an education research firm based in Sydney, Australia. Bruce has worked in teaching and leadership roles in state and independent secondary schools along with ownership and management of businesses in the health club industry and sports promotion fields. Bruce is passionate about teaching and achieving better outcomes for more learners. He is currently undertaking PhD studies at the University of Tasmania in Character Education.