Just as the weary seamen in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" were surrounded by a vast ocean of water yet had none to drink, educators are drowning in seas of data they cannot use.
Over the past four years, the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences has awarded $264 million to 41 states and the District of Columbia for statewide longitudinal-data systems. Foundations have contributed millions of philanthropic dollars to ensure such systems' development. And in response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, districts have created entire departments whose sole purpose is to respond to request-for-compliance data.
Are we there yet? Do we really need more educational data? Apparently so, according to the new administration. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, another $250 million has been allocated in economic-stimulus funds for the development of state longitudinal-data systems.
Many believe we already collect too much education data. Not me.
The problem is not so much with the data being gathered... it is how it is being used. Data is not an end unto itself. It is an important step in a process of discerning real meaning. Data gathered and stored with no clear purpose or follow-up serves no one. Education data locked in state warehouses serves no purpose.
In the area of arts education we do not suffer from a flood of data... but a dearth of it. What has been made recently available is either too thin (NAEP Arts Report Card) due to a small sample (280 schools... WOW!) or downright undrinkable (GAO Arts Education Study) which was widely criticized for methodology and analysis and written off by the education field.
So what we need is... better data for arts education (a problem our company is aggressively trying to solve), and better use of existing data with tools that unlock the real meaning of the intelligence behind the numbers.
That is why I will be in Seattle for the next week... getting a good strong dose of professional development and an even stronger does of mind bending conversations to see how we can quench the thirst of those in education who are drowning in data... but parched for knowledge.